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Some Idaho lawmakers opting out amid coronavirus fears

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Two Idaho lawmakers are getting out of the Statehouse due to fears from the new coronavirus, and others said Tuesday that their decision to remain is day-by-day.

Leaders in the House and Senate are meanwhile pressing ahead with must-pass budget bills trying to wrap up this week amid concerns that if they do adjourn temporarily, it could be months before they reconvene because the virus outbreak may get worse.

Democratic Sen. David Nelson left Tuesday afternoon, and Democratic Sen. Maryanne Jordan said she wouldn't return after business concludes Tuesday. She said she's not naming a temporary replacement.

"I'm not going to ask another person to come into this situation," she said, just before heading onto the Senate floor. "It's not safe."

Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who presides over the Senate, is among many lawmakers who say they're deeply concerned to be in the Statehouse, especially when her adult children are grappling with business decisions impacted by the new coronavirus.

"My mom's heartstrings are being pulled right now," she said, but didn't say how long she would remain if legislation starts stalling. "I can't answer that right now."

Idaho health officials on Tuesday said three more people have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of known Idaho coronavirus cases to eight.

The Statehouse draws three lawmakers from each of Idaho's 44 legislative districts, or 105 in all. An infection in the Statehouse increases the possibility that COVID-19 could spread more quickly around the state.

Republican Gov. Brad Little declared a state of emergency last week because of the virus and has urged Idahoans to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

The Statehouse in a normal year is bustling with visitors, but this week is quiet, with few people showing up in galleries to watch the House and Senate. There are no longer groups of school children on field trips in the halls. Lobbyists have mostly disappeared as well.

But the Legislature can't conclude its business without passing a balanced budget.

"We've got to do the budgets," said Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. "We've got to get this done. We've got a few more days. I understand there are concerns."

Republican Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Winder said he would keep the Senate working until there was a confirmed case in the Statehouse. He said he wouldn't condemn or criticize lawmakers who chose to leave.

Democratic Rep. Brooke Green said she was torn between representing the people who elected her while also possibly making them sick by remaining in the Statehouse. She would like a temporary adjournment.

"The fact that we're still in this room tells me that it's a disregard for us, our families," she said while seated at her desk on the House floor waiting for the session to begin. "I have an identical tw in sister on the phone pretty much every 10 minutes saying 'get your butt out of there.'"

Tempers were getting short as well after the House on Tuesday killed the budget for the Idaho Tax Commission, meaning the budget committee had to meet again to come up with a new budget.

Republican Rep. Rick Youngblood is the co-chairman of the budget committee.

"We work our tails off in here to do our budgets, and they take them in there (the House) just so they can try to make us write policy," he said.

Republican Rep. Neil Anderson, who is retiring after this legislative session, said lawmakers should be voting with the new coronavirus in mind. How those votes go, he said, would be a factor for him on whether to take an early exit.

"I think the decision is day-by-day for me," he said.

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Associated Press

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