BOISE — A Senate committee on Tuesday approved legislation seeking to end Republican Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus emergency declaration and restrictions despite being told Idaho could lose millions of dollars in federal aid.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 to send the concurrent resolution to the full Senate despite testimony from Idaho Office of Emergency Management Director Brad Richy that at least $20 million would be in jeopardy. Republicans supported the measure while both Democrats voted against it.
“That funding would be shifted to the individual communities,” Richy told the committee. He said additional money would come from residents across the state to replace the federal aid.
Emergency declarations are needed to trigger and keep federal money coming, typically from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The concurrent resolution contains a clause saying federal money would not stop despite the Legislature ending the COVID-19 emergency declaration.
Republican Sen. Steve Vick, who sponsored the resolution, didn’t explain how that would work.
“My goal is to restore freedom to the people of Idaho to live their lives as they see fit and make their own healthcare decisions,” he told the committee.
A concurrent resolution must be passed by both the House and Senate. It doesn’t require the governor’s signature to take effect.
Republican Gov. Brad Little declared an emergency on March 13 after COVID-19 entered the state. Later that month, he issued a temporary stay-at-home order as the coronavirus spread rapidly, overwhelming some hospitals and sickening health care workers who said they were running out of personal protective equipment.
The lockdown gave the state and hospitals time to gather supplies. But unemployment shot up from about 3% to nearly 12%.
Little lifted most restrictions over the summer as he sought to reopen the economy, and unemployment dropped to about 6%.
But infections and deaths increased in the fall, and Little reinstated some restrictions. Currently, there is a limit of 10 people or less during public and private gatherings. The limit doesn’t apply to religious or political gatherings, but it does apply to sporting events.
Idaho officials say more than 155,000 Idaho residents have been sickened by the virus, and more than 1,600 have died.
Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne, the assistant minority leader, said he liked the resolution but suggested it should modify rather than terminate a governor’s emergency declaration to preserve federal aid. When Republicans declined his suggestion, he voted against approving it.
Republican Sens. Jim Guthrie and Patti Anne Lodge, the committee’s chairwoman, had similar concerns about losing federal money but voted for the legislation. The legislation could still undergo changes in the full Senate.
“Federal dollars are our dollars,” Lodge said. “We’re the ones that are paying those dollars, and if our folks need some help in our state, we need to be sure that those dollars will come back to support the people in our state.”
This story has been corrected to properly spell Brad Richy’s last name.