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Two GOP state legislators seek to end Idaho’s COVID-19 disaster emergency order

Rep. Heather Scott (R, Blanchard)
Otto Kitsinger
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Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Republican Rep. Heather Scott also pushed a similar measure unsuccessfully last year

Two Idaho legislators took steps Tuesday to try to terminate the COVID-19 emergency declaration that Gov. Brad Little put in place for the state of Idaho.

Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Chad Christensen, R-Iona, are sponsoring House Concurrent Resolution 40, which is designed to end Little’s disaster emergency declaration if it is adopted by the Idaho Legislature.

Little first issued a COVID-19 public health emergency order on March 13, 2020, hours before he announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Idaho. Emergency orders have been reauthorized and remained in place since the first declaration Little issued.

Since then, 4,751 Idahoans have died of COVID-19, according to the state’s official coronavirus data dashboard. The state has twice activated crisis standards of care for Idaho hospitals. Idaho Department of Health And Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen announced the state emerged from crisis standards of care Feb. 15.

During House Concurrent Resolution 40’s introduction before the House State Affairs Committee, nobody mentioned the 4,751 Idahoans who died of COVID-19.

“You know, the critical care right now where we have hospitals that are making decisions based on emergency situations and I do not believe we are in an emergency at this point,” Scott told legislators.

“There is an extremely high survival rate of COVID-19 at this time,” Scott added.

She also said her House concurrent resolution is a “check and balance.”

“What I have seen by extending this emergency for over 715 days, we are starting to consolidate the power under the executive branch … the idea of separation of powers is there for a reason,” Scott said.

During the 2021 legislative session, Scott sponsored a similar measure in House Concurrent Resolution 1, which was introduced but never advanced out of committee.

During the introductory hearing on the House Concurrent Resolution 40 on Tuesday, Scott pointed to a section of state law that allows the Idaho Legislature to terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time via concurrent resolution.

“We do have the authority,” Scott said.

The Idaho Capital Sun requested a comment on the House concurrent resolution and emergency order from Little’s office, which did not immediately provide a statement on Tuesday.

In the past, Little hasn’t minced words when questioned about the necessity of emergency orders. The emergency order was in place, Little would often say, because COVID-19 is undeniably an emergency.

Introducing the House concurrent resolution clears the way for it to return to the House State Affairs Committee for a full public hearing.

Because it is a House concurrent resolution and not a full bill, House Concurrent Resolution 40 does not go to Little’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed. The House concurrent resolution would need to be adopted by the full Idaho House of Representatives and the Idaho Senate in order to take effect, however.

Little used emergency order recently to active the Idaho National Guard

On Jan. 31, Little cited the emergency order when he activated 75 Idaho National Guard members to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals were again overwhelmed and operating in crisis standards of care. Little cited the emergency order and stipulated that FEMA would reimburse the Department of Defense for all costs associated with the Idaho National Guard response.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed during a press briefing Tuesday that Idaho National Guardsmen are still being used to combat COVID-19 in Idaho.

The emergency declaration also ensures hundreds of health care workers and travel nurses can continue to help stressed hospital systems under a state contract that will be reimbursed by FEMA.

“Certainly, if we took away the 485 staff (deployed as of mid-February), we would be right back in crisis standards of care, so we don’t use that as the deciding factor,” Ben Roeber, Idaho Office of Emergency Management preparedness and protection branch chief, told the Sun last month.

A year earlier, in January 2021, Little also called up Idaho National Guard troops to assist food banks and help distribute COVID-19 tests and vaccines, Idaho Education News reported.