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Lawmakers introduce bill to limit public health authority

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel of state lawmakers voted to introduce legislation to prevent Idaho public health officials from ordering schools to close or take preventive measures such as requiring masks during public health emergencies.

The House Education Committee voted to introduce the legislation, presented by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, on Friday, the Idaho Press reported.

DeMordaunt said the bill stripping the authority from state health officials promotes “representative government” because it would place decisions in the hands of local school boards. She said the bill was one endorsed by a working group of state lawmakers last summer.

According to numbers from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, more than 161,000 Idaho residents have been identified as being infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 1,721 of them died from COVID-19. Public health experts and Idaho Gov. Brad Little have stressed that precautions like wearing masks, practicing social distancing and keeping sick people quarantined from others are necessary to slow the spread of the contagious virus and to keep the state’s hospital system from being overwhelmed.

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