Land Board screenshot

Idaho's state Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and comprises the state's top elected officials, holds an all-virtual meeting via Zoom on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020; the meeting was streamed live to the public on Idaho Public Television's "In Session" service and included remote public testimony.

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Idaho’s state Land Board met all-virtually this morning, taking public testimony remotely on a pair of proposals for lands surrounding McCall’s scenic Payette Lake including a huge, controversial proposed land exchange, and handling other business. It was the board’s first all-virtual remote video meeting, just as Gov. Brad Little, who chairs the board, held his first all-virtual press conference this past Friday. The Land Board’s agenda today explained why: “Due to the Governor’s Stage 2 Stay Healthy Order, dated 11/13/2020, gatherings, including public meetings, are limited to 10 persons or less in physical attendance. Individuals are highly encouraged to watch online or join via teleconference.”

When the governor rolled the state back into a modified Stage 2 on Friday due to unchecked spread of COVID-19 and the state’s fast-filling hospitals, he capped public and private gatherings at 10 people. Businesses, schools, extracurricular school activities and “gatherings for purposes of political expression and religious activities” were exempted from the 10-person cap, but only if they adhere to physical distancing and sanitation requirements.

But if, as the Land Board agenda says, the 10-person cap does apply to public meetings, that raises questions about other in-person public meetings held today, including a raucous meeting of the Southwest District Health Board that had more than 10 people in attendance, including COVID doubters who questioned current health and death statistics.

According to state coronavirus data that’s updated daily by the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, as of yesterday at 5 p.m., 83,344 Idahoans have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 1,099 new cases reported on Monday, and 763 Idahoans have died. Those figures will be updated again at 5 p.m. today.

The governor’s order stated, “The scientific evidence shows that at this stage of the pandemic, it is necessary to slow virus transmission to protect Idaho’s vulnerable population and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.”

Idaho Press reporter Olivia Heersink covered the SW District Health meeting and has a full story here at idahopress.com.

I have requested further information from the governor’s office about the application of the 10-person limit on gatherings to public meetings, and will post additional info when I receive it.

The Land Board, which is chaired by the governor, heard presentations from the private firm, Trident Holdings, proposing the big McCall-area land exchange; and from a state Lands Department official working on the state's own proposal for state endowment lands in the area. And then it heard public testimony, all remotely, from 10 people representing organizations, local governments and businesses in the area strongly opposing both, and calling for continuation of a moratorium on any new state land exchanges or leases there until a more in-depth collaborative planning process can be completed. BoiseDev.com has extensive coverage online here, including both today's meeting and previous reports.

At the close of today's meeting, Land Board members, including Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and state Controller Brandon Woolf, thanked all those who spoke and provided input (no decision was made), and praised staffers for successfully setting up the all-virtual meeting, the board's first via Zoom; during the May lockdown, the board held remote meetings by phone. "It's worked very well," Wasden said.

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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