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The Idaho Legislature is scheduled to return to the statehouse on Jan. 11, 2021.

Prominent Democrats in the Idaho Legislature—including Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum—are asking Republican leaders to postpone the 2021 session until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available in Idaho.

In a letter sent Tuesday to House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, Stennett and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, requested that the session be pushed back until at least April 5. The Legislature is currently set to convene on Jan. 11.

“Under such extraordinary circumstances, the leaders of our state should be setting an example to reduce transmission, not exacerbate it,” the letter stated. “Proceeding with session in a few weeks, indoors, in-person, and with no masking or distancing requirements flies in the face of all public health guidance, sets the worst possible example for our citizens, and would likely contribute substantially to community transmission at a time when our healthcare facilities can least afford to be further inundated.”

There have been 321 vaccine doses administered in Idaho as of Wednesday evening, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, with healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents given first priority in the state’s vaccination plan. Meanwhile, the state had 125,452 total confirmed and probable cases of the virus—with 1,433 new cases reported on Wednesday—and 1,231 total deaths.

Vaccines will likely not be widely available until at least late March, Stennett and Rubel noted in their letter, adding that postponing the session until more Idahoans had been vaccinated would allow more members of the public to attend legislative hearings and give in-person testimony.

“Why subject legislators, their families, staff, journalists and the public to a highly dangerous environment when we can do all the necessary work a few months later at a vastly reduced risk once vaccines have been made widely available?” the letter said. “The state’s business can be conducted more thoroughly and thoughtfully later, at a time when we are not racing to shorten proceedings due to unprecedented health threats.”

Bedke issued a statement in response to the letter on Wednesday, saying that Republican leadership “understand[s] the concerns” of Stennett and Rubel. Under the Idaho Constitution, Bedke noted, the Legislature must pass a joint resolution with a two-thirds majority vote to change the start date and terms of a legislative session.

“We are continuously working on a viable solution that will provide the maximum level of workplace comfort for all members of the Idaho Legislature,” Bedke said. “We are duty bound to follow the Idaho Constitution and the rules of the Idaho House of Representatives and will continue to work within those parameters to find the best possible solution.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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