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Health questions raised after Idaho Legislature special session announced

Following an announcement from Gov. Brad Little, questions were raised about how the legislative body will meet amid COVID-19 concerns.

BOISE, Idaho — Almost immediately after Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced his intention to call a special legislative session in a few weeks, questions were asked about how the legislators from across the state could meet safely as Idaho continues to battle COVID-19.

During a news conference Thursday, Little addressed those questions.

“The transmissible moments that exist over there are going to have to be addressed. How do they do a roll call? How do they do the spacing?” he said. “We are learning, as the science evolves, we are learning how to do this. If they do the right thing, we should be okay.”

Doing the right thing implies the use of face masks and social distancing. For weeks, Little has asked Idahoans to mask up.

When asked about his guidance to lawmakers during a news conference, he had this to say:

“I think it’s a good practice. I don’t dare stand here and not say it’s a good practice with Dr. Hahn looking over my shoulder."

As the governor explained though, the legislators are in control of their rules inside the Statehouse.

“They have jurisdiction over the three floors in the Capitol, that’s their right," he said. "They’ve had lots of discussions."

READ MORE: Idaho governor to call special session of the Legislature

Like everyone else, House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma is waiting for official word on what the special session will cover. The state constitution outlines that the agenda for a special session is set by the governor.

But there is a good indication of where a special session would go.

“They are interested in some elections issues and also liability issues for businesses and schools in relation to COVID,” Blanksma said.

Of course, also on lawmakers' agendas, keeping the Capitol a safe and healthy environment with COVID-19 protocols.

“I know that was a discussion we had with Republican House leadership last night," Blanksma said. "The speaker is trying to figure out a way so that everyone is comfortable and safe."

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Maryanne Jordan said Democrats are also focused on creating a safe Statehouse.

“I’m concerned about the safety of legislators, the public, the staff, everybody,” Jordan said. “Our leadership and our minority caucus will be reaching out to the leadership of the majority party caucus and try and get some confirmation on safety protocols and what might be in place to keep everyone safe”

RELATED: 'This is going to be fluid up until November': Idaho preparing for highly anticipated general election

It’s been pointed out by many that in Boise and Ada County, where the state Capitol is located, there are currently health orders in place, mandating masks and limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

A spokesperson for the governor's office explained that the Capitol, while in city limits, is property of the State of Idaho, so not all of the city's or county's ordinances would be enforceable inside.

Building jurisdiction aside, Sen. Jordan is concerned about having lawmakers from across Idaho converge on Boise, a noted COVID-19 hotspot.

“It’s kind of splitting hairs when, in fact, we are not talking about whose building we are in, we are talking about a virus that can permeate anywhere you go if you are gathering people all in one place,” she said.

Legislative leaders are expected to finalize COVID-19 plans closer to the expected start of the special legislative session, projected for the week of August 24.

Gov. Little is expected to announce a proclamation on August 17 that will set the agenda for the special session.   

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