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Some Legislators leave session amid coronavirus spread, but leadership pushes on
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Some Legislators leave session amid coronavirus spread, but leadership pushes on

From the Complete coverage: What Idahoans need to know about the coronavirus series

BOISE — Some lawmakers walked away from the legislative session Tuesday over concern about the novel coronavirus, but Republican leadership is continuing on toward Friday's scheduled finish. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told lawmakers that while he shares concern for community health, there is still “a lot of business to do.” Winder said the Legislature will continue to work until someone in the building gets sick.

“There are some that would say this is a very significant virus that’s going around and it’s going to impact the world greater than anything we’ve seen in a long time, and I think in lots of ways that’s true,” Winder said, “but I also think that we need to not panic or lose sight of the fact that we come here and we serve.”

Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, responded saying she is leaving the session.

“I appreciate the majority has come to the decision and that it is your decision to make,” she said. “Waiting for someone to become ill is not the time to act, it’s before someone becomes ill. … As the caregiver in my family, I can no longer take that risk, so I will be leaving.”

Not on the floor at the time was Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, who announced earlier in the day that he also was going home to self-isolate.

“I am greatly concerned about the blatant disregard for all recommended safety precautions that the CDC, White House and governments around the U.S. and the rest of the world have issued to slow the spread of the virus,” Nelson wrote in a statement. “We are putting the lives of people in this building at risk. The longer we stay, the more likely it is that we will also chance carrying the virus home with us when the session does finally wrap up.”

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of 6:25 p.m. Tuesday.

State health officials have issued recommendations to cancel or postpone public gatherings with more than 50 people and those where at-risk populations are expected to attend. Last week, Gov. Brad Little issued a state of emergency and asked residents to avoid crowds to help “flatten the curve” to slow the spread of the virus. On Monday, President Donald Trump warned people to avoid crowds of more than 10.

During the session, the Statehouse is filled with 105 legislators, hundreds of state employees, lobbyists, reporters, and members of the public.

Winder acknowledged the only things the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to complete before adjourning is to pass a balanced budget. The House put a wrinkle in the chances of that happening quickly Tuesday by rejecting part of the budget related to the state Tax Commission, meaning more meetings will be held to negotiate those terms.

The plan remains to finish the legislative session on Friday as originally scheduled.

Lawmakers could spend the remainder of their time in the capitol debating how to pay for Medicaid expansion or whether to offer residents tax relief — high priorities coming into the session that have yet to be resolved. 

A joint statement from the Republican caucuses said lawmakers are following “common-sense precautionary measures” like “washing hands, staying out of crowded rooms and limiting social contact.”

“Majority leadership of the respective bodies have adjusted Legislative workloads to expedite finishing the Idaho people’s business and balancing the state’s budget as constitutionally required before returning home,” the statement says. “Republican legislators remain committed to following health officials’ recommendations as conditions move forward and to representing our constituents to the best of our ability in the most responsible manner possible.”

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, echoed the statement, and said he's not concerned about remaining in the Statehouse. 

"I'm elected to stay," he said. 

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