Idaho-Tax CutLawmakers in the House of Representative debate a bill on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. Lawmakers approved a massive income tax cut backers say provides much-needed relief but that opponents say is a giveaway to the rich that will result in long-lasting harm. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A fourth lawmaker in the Idaho House of Representatives has tested positive for COVID-19 in less than a week’s time and just as the Legislature is debating a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that people wear masks.
The increasing number of lawmakers out sick with the coronavirus has legislative leaders in the conservative state worried they may not be able to finish business in a timely fashion.
“Of course I’m concerned,” Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said Wednesday, before the announcement of the fourth COVID-19 diagnosis among his colleagues.
Bedke wasn’t wearing a face-covering but put one on before getting in an elevator in the Statehouse. “We’re re-emphasizing the safety protocols. We also want to be done by the end of the month. I guess we’ll just see how it goes,” he said.
A major goal of GOP lawmakers in the Legislature this session has been curbing the emergency powers of the Republican governor to respond to things like pandemics. Legislators have floated several proposals that would restrict Gov. Brad Little's ability to make sweeping directives in the future.
Republican Rep. Julie Yamamoto said Thursday she tested positive Wednesday afternoon and immediately left the Statehouse. She had been on the House floor earlier in the day without a mask as lawmakers debated a huge tax-cut bill.
All four lawmakers out with the illness are Republicans who rarely or never wear masks.
“I actually feel fine,” Yamamoto said. “The coughing is the worst thing. And I was doing that before with just the asthma and allergies.”
She said a doctor told her Friday the cough was from seasonal allergies, but she decided to get tested anyway.
“As soon as I got the result, I packed up and went home,” she said.
She said she had been persistently coughing during the week but mostly isolated in her office at the Statehouse. She said she never wears a face-covering.
Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug tested positive last week. Republican Reps. Lance Clow and Ryan Kerby tested positive shortly after and stopped going to the Statehouse this week.
The flurry of positive tests comes as health officials in southwestern Idaho are seeing an increasing number of people infected with the highly contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom.
Dr. David Peterman, a pediatrician and CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said 30% of positive tests on Wednesday at the health group's facilities in southwestern Idaho were the variant.
“The variant is clearly in our community and increasing,” he said. He said anyone working at the Statehouse should be wearing a mask.
The Idaho House has 70 members in all, and on weekends they typically travel home to all parts of the state. The Senate has 35 members, and two of them have been out with COVID-19 but recovered and returned to the Statehouse.