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Viewpoint: Idaho lawmakers prepare to resume session after COVID-19 outbreak prompted recess

House leaders from both parties say top priorities when they reconvene include education, transportation funding and property tax relief.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers are getting ready to go back to work at the Statehouse next week after a COVID-19 outbreak forced them to take a two-week recess.

Lawmakers voted to take the recess March 19. Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, says several lawmakers and staffers tested positive for coronavirus, and contact tracing identified other possible exposures. 

Legislators will go back into session Tuesday, April 6 with a goal of wrapping up in two weeks. House leaders from both parties say the big items on the agenda will be education, transportation funding and property tax relief.

"We will definitely maintain our commitment to the Career Ladder, which is another way of saying making sure our teachers are well paid as they progress in their career, and making teaching school in Idaho an attractive profession," Bedke said. "At the same time, we need to emphasize literacy in our K-3 classes. We've got to get those kids reading, and we've had a particularly challenging year this year. We want to make sure we don't give up the progress we've made in the past, and if we have, we need to make money available and have flexibility in our appropriations so that money can be redirected school district by school district to address the local problems there."

Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said education will be an important focus as well.

"One of the most positive things that could happen this session, in my book, is the proposal to fund full-day kindergarten," she said. "This is a historic, massive development, really the biggest thing to happen in terms of promoting education access in decades. And I think we were really on the cusp of making it happen this session. This would be to fund a full-day kindergarten option. It would not be mandatory for anybody. We had really a groundswell building. We had the bill drafted and really ready to go, and then we lost our House Education Committee (due to the COVID outbreak) which is where this was supposed to be introduced. So that was disappointing, but I'm really hoping that that's still something that can happen on our way back in."

Lawmakers also still have to approve the overall public schools and higher education budgets. You can hear the House leaders' views on other top priorities this Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on Viewpoint on KTVB.


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