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Vaccine mandate bill attempts to reconvene Idaho Legislature

| October 4, 2021 4:15 PM


Associated Press

BOISE — A panel of lawmakers recommended legislation Monday that could lead to reconvening the Legislature if the proposed bill aimed at thwarting President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates gets enough support.

The Committee on Federalism that contains both senators and representatives forwarded for consideration to the full Legislature the proposed bill that would make it a misdemeanor for state or city employees to assist implementing Biden's COVID-19 requirements.

“As a Legislature, we cannot stop President Biden from issuing executive orders, but what we can do is say: 'We're not going to help you implement them,'" said Republican Sen. Steve Vick. "So that's the goal of this piece of legislation.”

If the proposed legislation eventually became law, Vick said, state or city employees who violated it would be subject to a fine or jail. Employees would be responsible for the fine, not the city or state government entity, he said.

“While this is more of a foot-dragging approach, it may be one of the best approaches we can provide in not helping them,” said Republican Sen. Carl Crabtree.

Many Idaho Republican lawmakers are angry with the vaccine requirements announced by Biden last month, and some want the Idaho House and Senate to reconvene ahead of the regular session set for January to immediately prevent such mandates.

But so far, lawmakers haven’t been able to coalesce around a specific piece of legislation that House and Senate leaders say is needed to call lawmakers back to Boise. The action by the Federalism Committee, which deals with state sovereignty issues, aims to provide that legislation.

However, the committee has limited power and can't formally introduce or hold a public hearing on proposed legislation to advance it for votes in the full House and Senate. That would have to go through what is called a standing committee, which would require the Legislature to reconvene.

For that to happen, there would need to be the OK of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder. Both have been noncommittal over the summer about reconvening the Legislature. Bedke has said legislation that got widespread support could lead to calling the 105 lawmakers back to Boise.

Normally, only Republican Gov. Brad Little could call back lawmakers. But the House never fully adjourned in May, and House and Senate leaders say that means they don't need Little to reconvene. Little has said he doesn't need to call a special session because the House never officially adjourned.

The sweeping vaccine mandates put forward by Biden affect 100 million Americans, requiring that employers with more than 100 workers require employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.

Workers at health facilities who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will have to be fully vaccinated, affecting more than 17 million health care workers, the White House said.

Employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government are also required to be vaccinated with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation.

However, that rule has not yet been announced. Lawsuits are expected, including from Idaho, when it is made public.

The Federalism Committee meeting included four other proposed pieces of legislation, including one from Republican Rep. Tammy Nichols that ran into trouble when lawmakers questioned whether the medical privacy provisions in it would prevent employers from using drug testing to screen employees.

Democratic Sen. David Nelson had reservations with all the proposed legislation, and voted against sending any of them forward.

“We are at a balancing of rights,” he said. “People want to have the right, however vaguely defined, to not have to take a vaccine. But other folks want the right to a safe workplace, or a safe place to get medical treatment.”

Last month, more than a dozen far-right lawmakers met at the Statehouse in a failed attempt to gather a quorum of 36 House members to force the Legislature back into session, with at least seven proposed bills brought forward then.

In all, about a dozen pieces of legislation aimed at stopping Biden’s vaccine requirements as well as preventing private businesses from requiring vaccines have now been brought forward.

If Bedke and Winder were to call lawmakers back to Boise, all those proposed bills could get hearings as, unlike a special session called by Little, the legislation to be discussed wouldn't be restricted.

Crabtree, the Republican senator, noted as much during the meeting and discussing the legislation considered by the committee.

The proposed legislation “and the ideas that are there will be considered whether we say so or not, and they should be in my view,” he said.

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