The Idaho House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would void the state’s 50-person limits on gatherings due to COVID-19, while a House committee advanced the latest version of a bill that would limit the governor’s power in a state of emergency.

The full House approved House Concurrent Resolution 5, which would strike the current statewide limit on gathering sizes, on a 55-15 vote that fell largely along party lines. Both representatives from District 26, Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, voted against the measure.

Gov. Brad Little announced Feb. 2 that the maximum gathering size allowed statewide would increase from 10 people to 50 as Idaho advanced once again to Stage 3 of the state’s coronavirus rebound plan. Idaho first moved back into a modified version of Stage 2 on Nov. 13; that stage included a limit of 10 people per gathering.

Arguing in favor of the HCR 5 on Wednesday, sponsor Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, cited a need to get rid of the new 50-person limit due to youth sporting events, including an upcoming basketball tournament for high school girls.

The 50-person limit does not apply to youth sporting events that comply with spectator plans from the Idaho State Board of Education, however. Under ISBE’s latest plan, put into place on Jan. 22, gymnasiums may be filled to 40 percent capacity at school sports matches—or there may be four spectators per student, depending on which number is larger—if physical distancing can be maintained or if masks are worn.

As written, the current 50-person limit also includes exceptions for “religious and political expression,” educational activities and health care-related events such as COVID-19 testing or vaccination events.

HCR 5 will now be sent to the Senate, where a relevant committee will decide whether to send the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote.

The resolution isn’t the only measure aimed at limiting the governor’s authority during the COVID-19 pandemic that has gained traction in the statehouse this week. On Thursday morning, a new version of a bill to curb the governor’s emergency powers was introduced by Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, in the House State Affairs Committee.

The new bill would prohibit Idaho’s governor from suspending any part of state code during an emergency. It also prevents the governor from stopping any one group of workers from going to work and limits a state of emergency to 60 days, unless the Legislature extends the state of emergency or the governor needs to continue the state of emergency in order to receive funding or other resources.

The committee passed the bill, which will now be sent to the full House for a vote.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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