BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Governor Brad Little is ripping state lawmakers for jeopardizing efforts to fight the coronavirus and called on residents to contact their senators and representatives.
You can watch the speech below.
In his speech, the governor said the GOP-led Legislature is perpetuating false information and trying to score political points rather than help fight the pandemic. Little said vaccinations are being put at risk.
We are in the final lap of the pandemic fight, and the finish line is close," Little said. "We are so close to returning to normal. But all that success is threatened by the actions taking place in the Legislature right now."
Lawmakers have put forward about a dozen pieces of legislation to curb the governor's authority. Some of it is aimed at immediately ending Little's coronavirus emergency declaration, which has been in effect since March.
They join lawmakers in several other states taking similar action.
Emergency declarations are needed to trigger and keep federal money coming, typically from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. State officials say ending the coronavirus emergency could cost the state $20 million in federal aid. Some of that money is being used to mobilize Idaho National Guard soldiers to help with testing and, in the future, vaccinations.
Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, also spoke and said ending the emergency declaration could force some 400 troops helping in the pandemic response to stand down.
Lawmakers say they're angry about coronavirus restrictions that limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer, not counting religious or political gatherings. Little said the restrictions are separate from the emergency declaration and that he's specifically told lawmakers that.
"The inflammatory comments from the governor's office do nothing but complicate the process," the House Republican Caucus said in a statement. "The life-altering concerns revolving around the COVID-19 emergency continue to be in the front of our minds."
Little issued a temporary stay-at-home order in March as the virus spread rapidly, overwhelming some hospitals and leaving health care workers scrambling for protective equipment.
The lockdown gave the state and hospitals time to gather supplies, but unemployment spiked. Little lifted most restrictions over the summer, and unemployment dropped. But a virus surge in the fall led him to reinstate some restrictions.
State officials report that nearly 160,000 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,600 have died.
Many lawmakers bristled at Little's restrictions, especially the March lockdown.
In the House, one piece of legislation would end the governor's emergency declaration, knowing federal funds would be cut off.
A Senate committee earlier this week approved legislation that also would immediately end the emergency declaration but with the intention of keeping federal money coming. The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve Vick, couldn't explain how that would work when asked by other lawmakers.
You can read the speech below.
My fellow Idahoans, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as your Governor I have worked hard to protect lives and critical health care capacity for the entire state while keeping families safe and businesses and schools open.
Every decision has been a balancing act, and while the pandemic response has not been perfect, I do believe we achieved a balance.
How can we tell?
Because we have managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals, and we have kept our state open longer than almost every other state.
Because now, thanks to quick action during the pandemic, Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation and the most financially solvent state budget.
With our record budget surplus, we are poised to provide Idahoans historic tax relief and make strategic investments in “Building Idaho’s Future,” for us and our children.
Few states can claim that kind of success.
We are in the final lap of the pandemic fight and the finish line is close. We are so close to returning to normal.
But all that success is threatened by the actions taking place in the Legislature right now.
Every single state has active emergency declarations in place to respond to COVID-19.
President Trump issued two emergency declarations that remain in effect today.
When the Teton Dam broke in 1976, during the 1996 Panhandle Flood, whenever there is a devastating wildfire, we initiate an emergency declaration at the request of local communities so Idaho can access critical federal resources – resources we all pay for – to overcome the impacts of the crisis.
Every time, we have used emergency declarations appropriately. COVID-19 is no different.
An emergency is “a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.”
Let me be clear – undeniably, COVID-19 is an emergency.
Hundreds of Idahoans have died and many more have been horribly sick. Many Idahoans still face that same terrible risk.
The COVID-19 emergency declaration was requested by Idaho communities and it is critical in order for Idaho to receive federal assistance – your taxpayer dollars – to manage this crisis.
The COVID-19 emergency declaration has enabled us to quickly cut red tape and increase health care access.
These are facts.
Here is the myth: the emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho or takes away your rights.
That is patently false.
Amazingly, some in the Idaho Legislature are perpetuating that myth and actively seeking to end Idaho’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.
What does that mean for you, the citizens of Idaho?
It means less vaccine. More taxes. And more red tape.
It means the vaccine roll out is jeopardized – something that is unacceptable in this final stretch of our pandemic fight.
It means cities and counties will have to find the funds from you to pay for the equipment and support they need to battle COVID-19 in your community.
It means hospitals could lose access to critical supplies.
It means we lose the funding to utilize the Idaho National Guard to support testing, vaccine distribution, food banks, and medical facilities – something that has been a game changer in the pandemic fight.
It means we cannot cut red tape and break down regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of better health care access.
It means your federal taxpayer dollars would go to California, New York, and other states.
It means this terrible pandemic and the disruption to our lives will be extended, not ended.
Some members of the Idaho Legislature are seeking political gain by perpetuating misinformation about emergency declarations. They are playing politics, and unfortunately the loser in this shameful game will be you – the citizens of Idaho.
Members of the Idaho House admit they are not sure of the financial impact of ending the emergency declaration. Why, then, would you move forward with such a damaging move for our citizens, one that will cost Idaho taxpayers tens of millions of dollars?
The Idaho Senate has made it clear they understand the importance of continuing to access federal assistance to overcome the crisis. Why, then, are you intent on moving forward with an action that will have the opposite effect?
I want the people of Idaho to know that I have explained to legislators for months the importance of the emergency declaration and the reasoning behind all the decisions related to the pandemic response. I have sought their input and applied their advice to the state’s response.
I want the people of Idaho to know I am firm in my assertion that the actions of the Idaho Legislature severely jeopardize our ability to roll out vaccine and bring the pandemic to an end in Idaho.
As I have stated over and over, the “no action” alternative has never been an option. Pretending there is no COVID-19 emergency – as some in the Idaho Legislature are doing right now – will have devastating impacts on lives, our healthcare heroes who are protecting families, and our economy.
Those who know me know that I greatly value my legislative partners. Cooperation between the executive and legislative branches is required – and expected – for those of us in elected office to best serve the people of Idaho.
However, the seriousness of this situation demands that I speak up.
I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho.
I urge my partners in the Legislature to stop the political games and do what is right for the people of Idaho.
Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho.
Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow infringes on our rights.
Abandon these irresponsible attempts to undo Idaho’s emergency declaration – an action that only puts the lives and livelihoods of our families and neighbors in jeopardy.
I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want us to focus all this energy on the past 11 months.
I want us to focus on the future. We have a bright path ahead of us.
Idaho’s economy and state budget are outperforming every other state.
We have the strongest economy and the most financially solvent state budget.
We have stayed open longer than almost every other state.
We absolutely would not be in this phenomenal position right now if we did not have the emergency declarations, if we were not able to act quickly during the darkest months of our pandemic fight.
To the people of Idaho, I am asking for your help to finish this fight. Please, join me. Tell your legislators not to take away one of our strongest tools to end this pandemic. Tell them Idahoans’ lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Idaho, I will continue to work hard for you and make responsible decisions that help us get through this crisis together. Throughout the pandemic I have endeavored to protect you, your loved ones, and our economic prosperity.
I will never relent in that pursuit.
House Republicans responded to the Governor’s comments and released the following statement.
Members of the House Republican Caucus will continue to work to address the concerns of the Idaho families whom they represent. The inflammatory comments from the Governor’s office do nothing but complicate the process. The life-altering concerns revolving around the COVID-19 emergency continue to be in the front of our minds. Our members are working on various forms of legislation to help the state on its road to the recovery that Idahoans have been demanding for months and we call on the Governor to work with us in this process.
The Senate GOP issued this statement:
“We appreciate the Governor's concerns, but it categorically maligns legislative efforts as the Senate works diligently to address the much-needed rebalancing of power. The Senate has not advanced any legislation that would jeopardize federal funding. We are working to address the genuine concerns of many Idahoans while at the same time maintaining federal dollars for our National Guard response, critical assistance to our rural hospitals, school districts, and other community COVID-19 response needs. We look forward to working with the Governor and our colleagues in the House to serve our state during this challenging time. Now is the time for commonsense solutions.”