IORC Calls on Legislature to Ensure Safety, Equal Access to Lawmakers during Coronavirus Pandemic

November 30, 2020 

Senate Majority Leader, Honorable Chuck Winder;
Speaker of the House, Honorable Scott Bedke
State Capitol
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720

CC: Governor Brad Little; President of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin; Minority Leader, Senator Michelle Stennett;  Majority Leader, Representative Mike Moyle; Minority Leader, Representative Illana Rubel

Dear Senator Winder & Speaker Bedke,

I am writing to you on behalf of the board of directors, members, and staff of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC) to express concerns about the upcoming session of the 66th Idaho Legislature and the worsening COVID-19 public health crisis.  

IORC is a 501(c)(3) grassroots nonprofit based in Boise, Idaho with members across southern Idaho and local chapters in Bannock, Canyon, Payette, and Washington Counties.  IORC’s mission is to empower people to improve the well-being of their communities, sustain family farms and ranches, transform local food systems, promote clean energy, and advocate for responsible stewardship of Idaho’s natural resources. 

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases and tragic preventable deaths in Idaho continue to climb, public health officials warn the trend will continue into the scheduled 2021 legislative session.  IORC has serious concerns about the safety of holding an in-person session and the feasibility of facilitating meaningful participation by the public in the decision-making process.  

Researchers at Georgia Tech compiled a COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which estimates as of November 30 at a gathering in Ada County of 25 people (for instance, a small committee of nine members, one secretary, five reporters, and ten members of the public) there is a 51% chance of having at least one COVID-19 positive individual present.  We question whether legislative leadership can ensure the safety of the public in accordance with public health guidelines.  If the 2020 extraordinary session taught us anything, it is that the legislature does not have the ability or willingness to follow recommended health and safety procedures or the orders of local government jurisdictions and the health department.            

A core principle of IORC’s mission is to help our members participate in the decisions that affect them.  An irreplaceable part of that is being present at the statehouse to monitor committee meetings and speak with lawmakers.  Given the fast pace of the legislature and the tendency for meetings and agendas to change with little-to-no notice, it is not effective to monitor remotely via the Idaho In Session website.  Additionally, it is not clear how the committees will handle remote testimony or how effective that system will be.  IORC is concerned this will result in unequal access to lawmakers for those who are required to follow social distancing recommendations due to preexisting health conditions and those who make that choice to protect the health and safety of their fellow Idahoans.                   

With the preceding considerations in mind, we question to what extent the upcoming legislative session can be held without jeopardizing public health and safety, and if those procedures will guarantee equal access to the decision-making process.  We respectfully urge you to take all necessary precautions and to ensure safe, equal access to lawmakers and the legislative process for all Idahoans.  

Thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at 208-991-4451. 

Stephanie Rael
Chair, IORC Board of Directors