Citing concerns over the coronavirus, legislative leadership is pushing hard to adjourn the session before the March 20 target date, House Speaker Scott Bedke said Thursday afternoon.
“The best thing we can do is expedite an orderly finish, understanding that there are a couple of things we need to still do,” Bedke told Idaho Education News.
The news comes amid a tumultuous week that has seen the cancellation, suspension or postponement of everything from the NBA season and March Madness basketball tournament to Seattle-area public schools and, more locally, Treefort Music Fest.
“It’s scary,” Rep. Bill Goelsing, R-Moscow, said. “If we get one case here (in the Legislature) what would we do? That’s the question. Luckily, we’re pretty far along with the Legislature.”
Legislators have begun fast-tracking budget bills and moving more quickly through their reading calendars as part of that effort. However, key budgets, including public schools and higher education budgets, have yet to pass as of 4 p.m. Thursday.
“We are trying to expedite the process to get the appropriations process set, the budget in place, which is what you are seeing us do now” Bedke said. “If we have to leave, we want the business done. Or as much as the business done as we possibly can. We want to leave the lights on.”
Bedke said there are discussions about holding a rare Saturday session this week at the Legislature to further move things along. But he said a decision hasn’t been made.
He also stressed that he would not be the one to make the call to end the session early, though he would be in the loop.
Bedke stressed the importance of staying calm, saying Idaho was one of four states without a positive coronavirus test.
But he also said the volatile performance of the stock market over the past two or three weeks have given him new concerns.
“We do have an economic – oh, let’s use the word — crisis,” Bedke said.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its worst day since 1987, losing 10 percent.
“I think that changes the financial picture and the economic atmosphere of the state,” Bedke said. “I think that should give everyone pause when it comes to tax policy.”
Although he hadn’t been asked specifically by Bedke, Goesling said it would be possible for the Legislature to head home for the weekend, suspend the session and then return to finish any unresolved business at a later date.
With spring break on the horizon, Goesling, whose district includes the University of Idaho, was also worried about what would happen if thousands of students and faculty members spread out across the country and then return home to Idaho.
“It’s the kind of situation where we need to be very proactive,” Goelsing said.
Bedke said the Legislature would remain calm and continue to monitor the situation. He said there are multiple different options, depending on what happens next.
“Path A will be triggered with an event that we don’t have yet,” Bedke said. “Path B will be triggered by an event we don’t have yet. Path C would be triggered by an event we don’t have yet, etc. So we don’t know.”
When asked what a triggering event would be, Bedke said it’s when anyone in the Statehouse comes down with coronavirus.
“I think we could leave pretty fast,” Bedke said.