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Idaho House passes bill to remove COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings

Graphic by Jordan Barno

Rep. Brett Crane introduced legislation HCR 2 in the House last month, which would undo COVID-19 restrictions on crowds such as sporting events and other large gatherings. 

The HCR 2 Bill, which passed the House with a 55-15 vote, would essentially bypass Gov. Brad Little’s current limited gatherings of 50 people in the state, and allow for unlimited gathering restrictions. 

As reported in the Idaho Press, Crane feels Little could have handled the coronavirus pandemic better, referencing Little’s priority for students in the state. 

“We have students that are struggling, depression is up. I walked into my office this morning before I came here today, one of my employees was there. I said, “I’m going to introduce a bill that will lift the 10 person rule and allow sporting events to take place, concerts to take place’,” Crane said. 

While the bill currently sits in the Senate State Affairs Committee Rep. Lauren Nicochea voted against the bill and believes the focus should be shifted to combat the pandemic.

“We must concentrate on continuing to reduce cases, preventing deaths and ensuring a successful vaccine rollout before further lifting restrictions,” Nicochea said. “This was another attempt by the majority party to undermine the governor’s power, even while the legislature has proved to be sluggish in making critical decisions when it is in control.”

Nicochea thinks more focus should be on things such as distributing the federal funds received in December.

“We still have not authorized the release of much-needed COVID relief funds for rental assistance and Meals on Wheels, even though the state has been sitting on those funds since December and thousands of Idahoans are desperate for this help,” Nicochea said. “If the legislature were not in session, the governor would have the power to make this decision and likely would have gotten those funds out the door much faster.”

The recent move to the stage 3 rebound plan allows for gatherings of 50 people compared to 10. HCR 2 will ask to remove any gathering restrictions put in place. A move Nicochea sees as unnecessary. 

“We know the coronavirus spreads easily among groups and a new variant is now present in Idaho, so this could pose a major threat. The only way we can get the economy back on track is by getting a handle on the pandemic,” Nicochea said.

Rep. Sally Toone feels that the bill is also unnecessary due to the fact that high school sports have set their own crowd size restrictions along with the Idaho High School Athletic Association (IHHAS).

“Most high school events can have 40% capacity which is well above the 50-person mark. Even the state tournament at their level of 1400 students per IHSAA, is a lot of people,” Toone said. 

According to the Idaho State Board of Education’s website under Stage 3, four year postsecondary institutions such as Boise State can allow up to 40% of their facility capacity, or up to four spectators per student participant, whichever is larger for winter sporting events.

The legislation was filed for a first reading on Jan. 26, no other action has been taken according to Nicochea. 

Even though cases are trending downward and the COVID-19 vaccine is continuing to be administered in Idaho, Necochea doesn’t believe the fight is over.

“We’ve been able to reduce case counts, but there’s still so much work to do, especially in relation to the vaccine rollout. We don’t want to end up in the same position we were in a couple months ago,” Necochea said.

Graphic by Jordan Barno | The Arbiter

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