Idaho Legislative Notes For Tuesday; Wrongful Convictions, Non-Vaccinated People

Feb 23, 2021

The Idaho House passed a handful of bills on Tuesday, including one that would compensate people wrongfully convicted of crimes.
Credit Courtesy of State of Idaho

The Idaho House on Tuesday approved several bills, including legislation aimed at people who served prison time after erroneous convictions and a bill that provides some protections for people who choose not to be vaccinated.

In the first case, the House unanimously approved and sent to the governor a bill that provides compensation for people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Idaho is one of 15 states that doesn’t offer financial help to people released from prison after being exonerated by a court. The bill was inspired by the story of Christopher Tapp, an Idaho Falls man who was freed in 2019 after serving 20 years for a 1996 rape and murder.

On the House floor, the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt [R-Idaho Falls], directed her remarks to Tapp.

“We are paving a path forward for you, hopefully no one else, but should it happen, we are paving a path forward to try to make something that was terribly wrong, at least to say this is something we can do because we can’t make it right," she said.

A group called the Idaho Innocence Project found DNA evidence that cleared Tapp of the murder. He was released in 2019 and has since sued the city of Idaho Falls. Another man was arrested and will stand trial later this year.

Ehardt’s bill would allow people who are freed to be paid 62-thousand dollars for every year they were imprisoned, more if they were on death row. It also sets out the criteria that people must meet to become eligible.

Tuesday’s passage by the House follows a unanimous vote in the Senate. A similar bill passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Governor Brad Little. Another of the co-sponsors says he’s been assured the governor will sign this version.

In the case of the second bill, the House today approved what its sponsors call a discrimination bill. The discrimination, they say, is against people who choose not to be vaccinated.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings’ [R-White Bird] bill would prohibit the state or any of its political bodies from contracting with companies that require their employees to be vaccinated as a condition of keeping their jobs.

The legislation was approved by a 49-to-21 vote. Rep. Ron Nate [R-Rexburg] is one of its supporters.

“We’re creating a situation where individuals’ rights are protected from mandates that would lead them to have to do something that either could be dangerous to them or that they don’t like, for whatever reason. I’m in support of this bill. It’s a constitutional bill and a freedom bill," he said.

One opponents, Rep. John McCrostie [D-Boise], contrasted the bill with a bill he sponsored last year to provide legal protection for LGBTQ people.

“My legislation has been turned down due to creating special rights or a special class or a special status based on a lifestyle choice," he said. "So, can you explain to me how House Bill 140 is not, indeed, creating special rights or a special status based on this lifestyle choice?”

Giddings answered that people have the right not to be forced to ingest something they don’t think is good for their bodies.

The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.