It’s been nearly one month since the Idaho State Legislature adjourned for the year, wrapping up budgeting and bill-writing just as the novel coronavirus arrived in Idaho.
As city and county officials consider local restrictions and state officials hand down statewide mandates, District 26 lawmakers say they see their role in the pandemic as serving as a behind-the-scenes bridge between constituents, local governments, and state leaders.
“I think that’s our job: to lend a hand, disperse information, take calls,” Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Idaho Mountain Express. “Because we have an ability to reach into state government more easily than some people in the community can.”
In the weeks since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Idaho, Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said she’s received a number of calls from concerned constituents.
“I’ve gotten more phone calls from constituents than I ever have,” Toone said. “People have called me worried about everything from, ‘How do I get PPE?’ to ‘Where do I get tested?’ to ‘Am I an essential service?’”
In a typical year, the weeks following the legislative session are a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of lawmaking, Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, said—“sort of like slack,” to use resort-town terms. This year, “we’re staying just as busy as we were in session.”
The three District 26 lawmakers have continued to send out email newsletters to constituents in the month since the session ended, which include the latest information on testing and community resources. They’ve also been in touch with county commissioners and city officials, they said, to assist in connecting local and state leaders when necessary.
“We’re just trying to support and liaise and connect the right people to make sure everything that’s needed here we get,” Davis said.
While all three lawmakers represent the entirety of District 26, restrictions on travel have presented some new challenges in assisting constituents who live in other counties, they said. Toone has referred some Blaine County residents with questions or requests to Davis and Stennett, who both live in Ketchum. Toone, who lives in Gooding, has unofficially been handling communication with those who live in Lincoln, Gooding, and Camas counties.
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has resulted in “a learning curve” for lawmakers and officials, Stennett said.
“We’re all flying by the seat of our pants here,” she said. “There will be hiccups. But we’re all trying to do this as thoughtfully as we can.”