A work-from-home Legislature? State could use federal money for tech upgrades

Legislative leaders are requesting $1.24 million for technology upgrades to allow lawmakers to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money would come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Gov. Brad Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee will take up the request Wednesday.

The look of the 2021 legislative session is in limbo, but lawmakers are planning for several options: a “remote” session with legislators participating via webinar or Zoom; a “social distancing” session with all lawmakers in the Statehouse, but maintaining spacing from each other; or a “hybrid” model that combines the two.

“Currently, we anticipate a hybrid session, with most legislators participating from within the building, but a percentage participating remotely,” Legislative Services Office Director Eric Milstead said in a July 7 letter outlining the request.

In the meantime, lawmakers are planning alternative meeting strategies, “to protect the health of legislators, the public, staff, executive branch personnel, the media, lobbyists, and others,” Milstead wrote. That will affect legislative interim committees that meet through the summer and the fall, the Legislature’s new member orientation and organizational session in November and December, and any special session Little calls between now and January.

Three legislative leaders — House Speaker Scott Bedke, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Steven Harris and retiring Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill — have submitted letters supporting the plan.

“The audio/visual upgrades to the Statehouse will ensure uninterrupted work by lawmakers and allow for full, transparent participation by the public,” said Hill, R-Rexburg.

In March, as Idaho reported its first confirmed coronavirus cases, lawmakers continued their work in the Statehouse — although several legislators left during the waning days of the session, citing safety concerns. The state and its health districts are now reporting more than 11,000 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases.

Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press first reported on the funding request Monday.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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