Governor screenshot 1-22-21

Gov. Brad Little addresses the state about COVID-19 on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

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Gov. Brad Little, in a forceful address to the citizens of Idaho today, warned that the Legislature's attempts to end the state's current state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic means the pandemic's impacts on the state "will be extended, not ended."

"The actions of the Idaho Legislature severely jeopardizes our ability to roll out vaccines and bring the pandemic to an end in Idaho," the governor said in an address that was broadcast live online and on TV. 

"Every single state has an active emergency declaration in place to respond to COVID-19," Little said. "We are so close to returning to normal. But all that success is threatened by the actions taking place in the Legislature right now."

Numerous proposals have been forth in the first two weeks of this year's legislative session to end the current state of emergency and trim the governor's emergency powers, in response to concern over the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pending proposals in both houses now seek to end current disaster emergency declarations. The governor has posted a full statement online here.

Little said an emergency is defined as "a serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action."

"Let me be clear: Undeniably, COVID-19 is an emergency," he said. "Hundreds of Idahoans have died and many more have been horribly sick. Many Idahoans still face the same terrible risk."

The emergency declaration, he said, is what enables the state to receive federal assistance, "your taxpayer dollars," to manage the crisis.

He called it a "myth" that the state's emergency declaration in any way shuts down Idaho or infringes on people's rights. It doesn't, he said. Public health orders issued both at the state and local levels are issued under separate laws from emergency declarations, which are required to receive emergency assistance, including funding for deployment of the Idaho National Guard.

"Some members of the Idaho Legislature are seeking political gain by perpetuating this misinformation about emergency declarations," Little said. "They are playing politics, and unfortunately, the loser in this shameful game will be you, the citizens of Idaho."

Little said he values his partners in the Legislature, and the executive and legislative branches must work together. "The seriousness of this situation demands that I speak up," he said. "I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho."

He called on Idahoans to contact their legislators and "tell them not to take away one of our strongest tools to end this pandemic and get back to normal. Tell them Idahoans' lives and livelihoods depend on it."

The governor was joined by Gen. Michael Garshak, head of the Idaho National Guard, who said, "At a moment like this, just as the Guard begins distributing and administering the vaccine, it is not the time to stand down. Canceling Idaho's emergency declaration would do just that."

Little, during his address, said, "Pretending there is no COVID-19 emergency, as some in the Idaho Legislature are doing right now, will have devastating impacts on our lives, our health care heroes who are protecting families, and our economy."

You can read our full story here at idahopress.com, or pick up Saturday's print edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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