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Idaho Legislature shuts down due to Covid outbreak in Statehouse

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Legislature voted Friday to shut down for several weeks due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the move to recess until April 6 with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut.

At least six of the 70 House members tested positive for the illness in the last week, and there are fears a highly contagious variant of Covid-19 is in the Statehouse.

“The House has had several positive tests, so it is probably prudent that the House take a step back for a couple weeks until things calm down and it’s not hot around here for Covid,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said before the votes.

Five of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is Democrat. Another Republican lawmaker is self-isolating. The chamber has a super-majority of 58 Republicans, most of whom rarely or never wear masks. All the Democratic lawmakers typically wear masks.

The three lawmakers who tested positive this week, two Republicans and one Democrat, had all been participating in debates on the House floor.

The House, with the illness spreading, requested the Senate recess as well. Two senators contracted Covid-19 but have recovered and returned to the 35-member Senate.

The Senate honored the House request and voted to recess about an hour after the House, with Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder calling it “an unusual and kind of historic request that has been made of us.”

Republican Sen. Majority Leader Kelly Anthon said senators could use the time to prepare for when the Senate convenes again. “We will use this time productively for the Idaho people so that when we come back together on April 6, we will be ready to work quickly,” he said.

Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said after the votes that the delay could be good because it could give the Legislature time to figure out how to spend the $2.2 billion the state is receiving in the latest round of federal coronavirus relief money.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who control both chambers, didn’t impose a mask mandate this session.

“I think maybe when they come back, maybe it will be different,” Bedke said. “But I have no regrets on the safety protocols here to this point.”