JFAC ceiling

The ornate hearing room in the state Capitol, a former Idaho Supreme Court chamber, where the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meets.

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BOISE — The Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee voted unanimously Friday to allocate $2 million from the state general fund to an emergency fund that Gov. Brad Little can tap to pay for response to the coronavirus.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said the $8.3 billion funding bill that Congress approved a day earlier includes more than $4 million in funds for Idaho; when that arrives in the next 30 to 60 days, half of it will pay back the state general fund for this transfer, and the other half will be added to the emergency fund.

“The situation is rapidly evolving,” Alex Adams, Gov. Brad Little’s budget director, told JFAC, “and we do expect confirmed cases in Idaho at some point. … What we want to do is be as prepared as possible, and this supplemental appropriation will increase our preparedness. It can be used for medical supplies as well as community mitigation expenses.”

Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, praised the governor’s office for its response to the virus.

“I just wanted to express my thanks to them for the proactive nature,” he said.

Bair said, “We’re probably going to try to move it rather quickly through the process.”

Little said in a news release Friday, “Idaho is prepared, and we all must do our part to prevent the spread of coronavirus by washing your hands frequently, staying home if you are sick, and avoiding others who are sick. I commend the Legislature for acting decisively to ensure we are prepared to protect the people of Idaho.”

Earlier this week, Little created a new Coronavirus Working Group that is meeting at least weekly to work on coordination and communication for public health agencies, and announced a new website, Coronavirus.Idaho.Gov, where Idahoans can find up-to-date information on the virus and how to prevent its spread.

On Friday, the state website reported that 27 people had been tested in Idaho, including two Oregon residents, and none had tested positive for the virus thus far.

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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