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BOISE — The governor’s office issued new guidance to state and local government agencies regarding the application of the new 10-person cap on public or private gatherings to government meetings, something that had folks around the state wondering over the past week.

The new public health order, issued by Gov. Brad Little on Nov. 13, came in response to skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 in Idaho and fast-depleting hospital capacity to treat the sick.

“The Stay Healthy Order’s 10-person limit applies to public meetings,” the guidance states.

It also notes that to comply with the Idaho Open Meeting Law, agencies must provide a physical location with at least one board member or agency official present where members of the public can come observe their meetings — but if that’s not sufficient capacity for all those who want to attend, especially given the limits, “The political subdivision should ensure that the meeting is available remotely to the public, i.e. by phone or online.”

That requirement under the Open Meeting Law, for the physical location, was waived by executive order during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that order expired over the summer. Now, all portions of the Idaho Open Meeting Law are again in full effect. “Careful consideration and planning should be made to ensure that the public continues to have access to observe all public meetings,” the guidance memo states.

The guidance fact sheet also notes that government agencies have authority under existing state law to impose “rules or regulations to protect the public health and to ensure the orderly conduct of public meetings.”

They also have authority to allow more than 10 people at a meeting if they deem it necessary to allow “political expression,” which is exempted from the 10-person cap; but they still must comply with rules requiring social distancing and sanitation. That could require moving the meeting to a larger facility with more space, or taking other measures such as allowing attendees into the room only when it’s their turn to testify, then having them leave and watch or listen from elsewhere.

You can see the full guidance, along with a memo from the Idaho Attorney General’s office on local agencies’ legal powers to impose safety-related limits, online at coronavirus.idaho.gov; click on the “Resources” tab at the upper left. It’s labeled, “Fact Sheet — Idaho Open Meeting Act and Stage 2 Stay Healthy Order.”

LEADERSHIP CONTESTS: SENATEThe day before the Idaho Legislature’s organizational session starts on Dec. 3, both parties in both houses will hold their caucus leadership elections, and quite a few contests are shaping up.

In the Senate, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is retiring, and two senators are running for his post, the top leadership position in the Senate: Sens. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who currently is Senate majority leader, the No. 2 post; and Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston.

For majority leader, Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, is running; he’s currently the caucus chairman, the 4th-highest post.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, the current assistant majority leader, is currently not seeking re-election to that post, and two other senators, Sens. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, and Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, are vying for that position.

Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, is running for Senate majority caucus chair.

On the Democratic side in the Senate, no one is challenging Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, as yet. The other two minority leadership positions are open, due to the retirements of Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner Webb, D-Boise, and Caucus Chair Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise.

Thus far, Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, is running for assistant minority leader; and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, is running for caucus chair.

LEADERSHIP CONTESTS: HOUSEThere are some big contested contests in the House, where House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is facing a challenge from Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls; Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, is facing a challenge from Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

So far, no one has announced challenges to the other two House majority leadership members. They are Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa; and Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett.

On the Democratic side in the House, no one is challenging Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. But there will be a contested race, as Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, is challenging Assistant Minority Leader John McCrostie, D-Garden City.

The third minority leadership position, caucus chair, will be open due to the retirement of 10-term Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello. Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, has announced she’ll run for caucus chair.

Each party votes during a closed-door caucus for its leadership elections, but the two top positions in each house, speaker of the House and president pro-tem of the Senate, then still must be voted on by the full membership, including both parties, once the organizational session convenes.

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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