Pandemic, politics and protests make Idaho’s top 2020 news
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The novel coronavirus pandemic affected nearly every aspect of Idaho residents’ lives in 2020, impacting our financial security, our education, our workplaces, our elections and our recreation. As the year came to a close, more than 124,000 residents had been infected by the novel coronavirus, and more than 1,200 of them had died from COVID-19. But December also brought a ray of hope, as the state received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines to be given to health care workers and nursing home staffers and residents.
Here, a look at the coronavirus pandemic and other news events that shaped the year:
1. CORONAVIRUS - Idaho’s first official report of a coronavirus case fittingly came on a Friday, March 13. Since then, the state has moved in and out of various restrictions set by Idaho Gov. Brad Little under his “Idaho Rebounds” plan, local mask mandates have prompted praise and protests, and the health care system has grown increasingly strained under the dual burden of having workers call in sick while increasing numbers of patients require care. State healthcare leaders approved a “crisis standards of care” plan in December, outlining which patients would receive potentially life-saving medical treatment if there’s not enough to go around.
2. A LAWMAKER EXPELLED - The Idaho Legislature had only been in session for nine days when lawmakers voted to expel one of their own — then-Rep. John Green, a Republican from Post Falls who had just been convicted of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, a felony. The charges stemmed from allegations that Green helped a wealthy Texas couple hide assets to avoid paying income taxes when Green worked as an attorney there. Idaho’s Constitution doesn’t allow someone to hold any civil office if convicted of a felony, but two-thirds of House members must vote to expel.
3. UNEMPLOYMENT - Idaho’s economy was sailing along nicely at the start of the year, recording a record low unemployment rate of 2.5% in March. But then the pandemic hit, businesses temporarily closed, residents’ buying, eating and traveling habits drastically changed and the economy felt the pain. In April the state saw a record high seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of about 11.5%, a nine-point jump made in one months’ time.
4. EARTHQUAKE - If start of 2020 wasn’t jarring enough, on May 31 many felt shaken thanks to a magnitude 6.5 earthquake that hit just before 6 .m. near the central Idaho town of Stanley. The quake could be felt as far away as Helena, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah. Seismologists say the region has an earthquake about that size every 30 or 40 years, and the previous one — a magnitude 7.0 near Borah Peak in 1983 — killed two children in Challis and caused an estimated $12.5 million in property damage. No injuries or major property damage was reported in the 2020 quake, which occurred along a strike-slip fault causing mostly horizontal movement. Aftershocks continued over the next several months, many being felt as far away as Boise.
5. TRANSGENDER RIGHTS - With overwhelming support from Republican lawmakers, Idaho enacted two anti-transgender bills in 2020. One prohibiting transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates directly violated a 2018 federal court order that barred Idaho from enforcing a remarkably similar birth certificate policy. The other law, which banned transgender girls and women from competing in women’s sports, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge while a lawsuit over the ban moves forward in court. The state also lost another legal fight over transgender rights. A transgender woman named Adree Edmo, who was serving time in a men’s prison on a sexual assault conviction, sued the state after prison doctors repeatedly refused to provide her with gender confirmation surgery. Prison officials agreed Edmo is transgender but said the surgery wasn’t appropriate treatment for her case. But a federal judge said denying the procedure in Edmo’s case amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal in the matter. Edmo was provided the surgery in June and transferred to a women’s prison.
6. BLACK LIVES MATTER - The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in June sparked outrage and concern around the world. Some Idaho residents responded by holding vigils and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police violence. Other Idaho groups held counter-protests, holding “thin blue line” flags and proclaiming support for law enforcement.
7. TUMULTUOUS SPECIAL SESSION - The pandemic prompted the Idaho Legislature to hold a chaotic, three-day special session in August to pass legislation intended to smooth the election ballot counting process and shield businesses, schools and government entities from COVID-19 liability issues. The liability shield law raising the ire or anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and his supporters. Angry protesters forced their way into the Idaho House gallery — a glass door shattering during the incident — and later shouted down lawmakers. Bundy was arrested twice during the protests, first for trespassing after he refused to leave a committee room and later for going back to the Statehouse despite a year-long ban prompted by the trespassing arrest.
8. PUBLIC SCHOOL BECOMES HOME SCHOOL - The Idaho State Board of Education closed public schools to in-person learning statewide in late March in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus and to give districts time to come up with plans to safely move back to in-person learning. Schools scrambled to get students laptops or computer tablets so classes could meet online, with participants logging in from home. By the fall, schools across the state were opening and closing intermittently depending on community coronavirus numbers, and many switched to a hybrid approach.
9. VOTER TURNOUT - Idaho residents set a voting record in the general election, with Idaho Secretary of State’s Office reporting that more than 878,527 people voted. That’s more than 81% percent of the state’s registered voters. The state also saw record high numbers of people registering to vote, surpassing the 1 million mark for the first time. The primary was also remarkable, with Idaho holding its first election entirely by mail in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
10. MISSING KIDS MYSTERY - The bizarre case of two children missing since the fall of 2019 turned doubly tragic in June when their remains were found buried in the yard outside the home of their mother’s new husband, Chad Daybell. Both Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell are awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to charges charges of conspiracy and attempting to conceal or destroy evidence. Court documents filed in the case include claims that the couple had strange doomsday beliefs. Investigators are also looking into the untimely deaths of the Daybell’s former spouses. Charles Vallow was shot to death by Lori Daybell’s brother in what he told police was self-defense. Chad Daybell’s late wife Tammy Daybell died of “natural causes,” according to her obituary, but investigators became suspicious and had Tammy’s body exhumed. The results of that autopsy have not yet been released.