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Senate leaves for the session, House stays despite coronavirus concerns
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Senate leaves for the session, House stays despite coronavirus concerns

State of the State address, 2020

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, center, looks on during the State of the State address Monday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2020, at the state Capitol building in downtown Boise.

BOISE — Idaho lawmakers finished their business Thursday, but while senators left for home, members of the House are sticking around in case the governor vetoes a bill.

The 2020 legislative session was scheduled to end Friday, however, concern for the coronavirus prompted lawmakers to speed up the process, and by Thursday afternoon, both the House and Senate had completed their work.

After a series of meetings, the Senate announced they would adjourn sine die and left for the session. But the House instead chose to come back Friday morning.

Why?

House members are waiting to see if Gov. Brad Little vetoes any bills. If that happens, they could vote to override the decision with two-thirds support.

The problem?

Earlier in the day, Little said at a press conference that his focus is on combatting the novel coronavirus in Idaho — the number of confirmed cases in the state doubled Thursday — and he will spend Friday traveling to each of the state’s health districts to meet with officials.

And while he has said he is processing bills as fast as he can, a few controversial bills on transgender issues have garnered national scrutiny. Several high profile people have urged him to veto, including leaders at ClifBar and Chobani and five former Idaho attorneys general.

“The people who wrote our constitution thought it was only fair that the governor have time to deliberate over those bills at the end of the session,” Little said Thursday.

It’s unclear when Little will decide on those bills, but it could be as late as Tuesday afternoon if the House remains in session.

That leaves many lawmakers with a difficult decision about whether to vote to adjourn on Friday or push on to next week, even as health officials explicitly recommend against gatherings of 10 or more people. Four Democratic representatives had already left the session Thursday morning over concern for the coronavirus. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, even tried to end the session himself in the morning, but no Republicans voted for his motion.

Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told reporters that the House may choose to preserve its constitutional right to overturn a veto and stay longer, but he suggested some members of the Republican caucus want to end the session Friday.

“We’ll come in the morning and we’ll go through the orders, including, at the end, a motion to sine die,” Bedke said. “We’ll see where everyone is at that point.”

In a press conference following adjournment, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said Republican leadership is refusing to heed the warnings of health officials and setting a poor example for the public.

“The decision to stay in the Capitol put everyone at risk, including all of us in this room and our communities at large,” she said.

Bedke said they are following the recommendations for the area.

“Please understand we are not downplaying or underplaying the seriousness,” he said. “We are emphasizing that we follow the guidelines from the local health districts, ... and at the same time finishing the session.”

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