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Coronavirus liability shield extension bill heads to House

Legislation is now in the full House to extend a legal shield for Idaho businesses, schools and government entities from lawsuits if someone catches COVID-19.

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee voted to approve the measure that for the second time extends a liability immunity law that backers say is needed as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The immunity shield expires this summer unless lawmakers approve the extension to July 1, 2023.

“I reached out to our business community and the general response that I got was that with the rising cases of omicron, that our business and education communities still feel that there is some uncertainty around this issue and they would greatly appreciate having the sunset extended for one more year,” said Republican Rep. Julianne Young.

No one spoke against the measure.

The immunity shield law was initially passed in 2020 during a special session called by Governor Brad Little. The legislation drew protests at the Statehouse that summer amid concerns it protected bad actors in the government, turning the three-day special session into a chaotic event that saw antigovernment activist Ammon Bundy arrested twice. Bundy is now running for governor.

Idaho has been experiencing its largest coronavirus surge since the pandemic began, straining the health care system amid the omicron variant.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Exact coronavirus numbers in Idaho are difficult to determine because the state’s tracking system is struggling to keep up with the flood of new cases.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated crisis standards of care for much of southern Idaho. Crisis standards of care allow hospitals to triage health care as needed when they don’t have the capacity to deal with patient influxes.

It marked the second time amid the pandemic that Idaho officials have authorized health care rationing, with the first round occurring last year and being deactivated by December.

State officials say that about 4,300 people in Idaho have died due to the coronavirus since it entered the state in early 2020.

About The Associated Press