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Governor Little speaks on vaccines, upcoming Legislative Session and election

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KIFI/KIDK

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIDK/KIFI) - Governor Little paid a visit to southeast Idaho Friday to “make the point for people to choose to do the right thing” in relation to the pandemic.

“Given the point that it’s Christmas time, if you choose to do the right thing, that aspect of loving thy neighbor is going to be promoted to a higher level,” Governor Little said.

Governor Little says he believes Idaho has a greater inclination to stay indoors during the holidays and that is a high risk scenario of causing a Christmas coronavirus surge.

“Everybody loves a Christmas event, choir event, everybody gets together,” Governor Little said. “Those are where those transmissions just go crazy. We’re not [cancelling events] because we want to penalize everybody, we’re doing that because we want to preserve that healthcare capacity, keep people safe, keep kids back in school, and have more prosperity in our economy.”

Governor Little says if Idaho experiences a surge in coronavirus cases that overwhelms our healthcare systems, the government and public health officials will move us into a crisis standard of care scenario. He says what is probably a bigger issue as a result of this move to a crisis standard of care will be people totally withdrawing from going to work and children won’t be going to school. He says being turned away from the hospital is the government side of things.

“The other side of it is just a lack of consumer confidence,” Governor Little said. “People just feel uncomfortable, people totally withdrawn from the economy. So there’s two things that will happen, there’ll be government action, and then there’ll be what is natural and that’s people unfortunately being scared.”

Governor Little says the “COVID fatigue” in our area is a lot less than in other states because our economy is still open. Bars, restaurants, and schools are still open and he says people in other states are suffering more from COVID fatigue because everything is shut down in some areas.

He says the COVID vaccine is the ray of light at the end of the pandemic that should be curing COVID fatigue. He is asking for Idahoans to commit to just 60 to 90 days more of behavioral modification to get us to the point of being able to receive the vaccine.

“I’m urging people that have COVID fatigue to realize that we’re on the cusp of getting through this incredible pandemic,” Governor Little said.

The Pfizer vaccine has to be followed with a booster shot two weeks later and the governor says the first round of frontline workers and long-term care residents will have their first shots by the end of January. He says they won’t have their immunities until almost the end of February.

The general public may be able to begin receiving their vaccines in the middle of February. The governor said the vaccine administrations will be going into a records system.

“I’ve got great hopes,” Governor Little said. “I’ve been watching the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, just for the simple reason that it’s a lot less logistically problematic, because all you do is give one shot and you’re done...that’s also when our vaccination issue is going to be under more stress is when we have more vaccine coming in and the early people being vaccinated [with their second dose] at the same time.”

Governor Little says Idaho is “ramping up” public health and pharmacy preparations across the state to handle the influx of vaccine distribution. He expects this overflow to begin at the end of January.

“We’re going to have all those people that are just vaccinated get their second shot. Then we’re going to have the other ones coming in. So we are queing up to be prepared to where there’s the least amount of friction to make that an efficient process,” Governor Little said.

Governor Little said there is no such thing as public health police and no logical way for public health officials everywhere in society at once, enforcing mask mandates and making sure everyone is being responsible in slowing the spread of COVID-19. He says this is why he is asking and relying on all Idahoans to do the right thing and police themselves.

“I would rather spend the money promoting PR for people to do the right thing than go out and have law enforcement on a very narrow basis,” Governor Little said. “Now if somebody’s flaunting it, that’s a whole different deal, but I just think we have to make the case of why that’s the right choice for yourself, for the economy, and for healthcare going forward.”

Governor Little says Idaho’s budget numbers are very good right now. AP News reports a budget surplus in our state of $630 million after November tax revenue came in $45 million higher than anticipated and year-to-date, state revenues are ahead of projections by nearly $170 million or 10.6%. Governor Little says those numbers could fall off at any time if the coronavirus continues to surge in Idaho.

“We’ve had conversations with the legislature about putting investments in infrastructure, putting the investments in education, both k-12 and higher education, and some issues that are critical for this part of the state, water infrastructure,” Governor Little said.

Governor Little says education will be his highest priority and he also plans to focus on Broadband, roads and bridges, and efforts to backfill public health. He says he has a short-term plan and a long-term plan to address critical needs. 

“If you bought something online, that sales tax has been going into, basically, an account and it’s dedicated statutorily for tax relief,” Governor Little said. “So we’ve talked to the legislature about how that might be spent so there will be some tax relief, I’m confident of it, unless the economy absolutely crashes.”

The Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities and 30 supporting groups are voicing concern about the safety and health of the upcoming legislative session and conditions that could threaten their constitutional rights. Governor Little says the Constitution states legislative sessions must take place on the second Monday of January and postponing the session would be up to the legislature. He says the spread of COVID-19 may influence their decision either way to postpone the session.

Concerned about what it called the dangerous environment created by “gun-toting anti-government militia groups” during the August special session, the Council is worried that participating in the 2021 regular session could put their lives in jeopardy. Governor Little says officials have spoken about this concern many times.

“I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment, but if someone’s expressing their First Amendment right causes somebody else to be fearful about expressing theirs, then that’s a problem and the legislature’s aware of it,” Governor Little said.

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke says he will not postpone the 2021 legislative session, though Democratic leaders Senator Michelle Stennett and Representative Ilana Rubel said they were not aware of any other state that plans to move forward as if there is no pandemic. Bedke said the Idaho Constitution requires a Joint Resolution with a two-thirds majority vote to change the start date and terms of a legislative session. 

The governor said his office will continue to work on making Medicaid more efficient and funding it. He says the cost of Medicaid in Idaho has gone down due to the federal match rate by $60 million but he anticipates it will go up by that same amount next year. He says there is a dynamic process going through Congress right now to figure out what to put in a short term Medicaid bill and what should be included later.

“I think [Congress is] empathetic,” Governor Little said. “If the federal government was going to do something to help us, that would be one of the big ones, would be to help us with the cost of Medicaid, because our budget is sound. I don’t need to pay for our fundamental services because we’ve done the right thing in Idaho.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little signed onto the Texas lawsuit to overturn the elections.

“That lawsuit wasn’t perfect,” Governor Little said.

He says he believes the United States can have 100% confidence in the validity of Idaho’s votes but the same cannot be said for all states.

“We guarantee to the rest of the United States that our four electoral votes are the will of all the people that showed up to vote in Idaho and there’s a question about some of the hasty changes that were done through this last process,” Governor Little said. “I prefer that those states do the right thing and fix their process.”

Governor Little says states like Oregon, Washington and Utah took years to purge their mail in voting lists to ensure ballots were not sent to deceased voters or voters who had moved out of state.

“Some states implemented mail-in voting at the last minute and I think there was a risk there,” Governor Little said. “The bottom line is, the spread between the number of votes was enough that we didn’t have a Florida situation in 2000, it was different. I signed on because I think it’s important to the people of Idaho that the sanctity of the vote be honored in all those other states because their electoral votes determine who gets elected.”

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

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