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Idaho lawmakers begin hearing bills to blunt federal vaccine mandates

Courtesy of State of Idaho

Idaho’s House and Senate has gaveled into session today with a slate of bills aimed at vaccination policies.

Among them is a bill that forbids employers from firing or not hiring employees because of their unvaccinated status.

Nearly all who testified Monday on Republican Rep. Charlie Shepherd’s bill supported the intent, including Ruth Baker.

“It is not about a vaccine any longer. This is about power and control and it’s gone too far and we need you to protect us as citizens. Medication, mandates, they are not the solution. Freedom is the solution," she said.

Several people complained that they didn’t have time to read and analyze the bills. Democrats in the minority in the Idaho legislature complained about that too. They say Republicans are using the special session to ram through a variety of bills without receiving much public input.

Shepherd's bill is one of nearly 30 filed for the special session that began today [Monday] in Boise.

The first morning of the session included two hours of tense debate that led to a vote to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings. Giddings was accused of sharing the name of the woman who accused a former legislator of raping her on social media. She and several legislators defended Giddings during the Monday morning hearing on the House floor, but, ultimately, the House voted 49-19 to accept the Ethics Committee report that Giddings be censured and removed from her assignment on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

The special session was organized in October, as the state’s Republican-dominated legislature fumed over Biden administration policies requiring vaccinations for federal contractors and directing many private businesses to develop their own policies for vaccination, testing and masking.

“A great way to make Republicans come together in the state of Idaho is to do a federal mandate,” House Republican Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma said in an interview with Spokane Public Radio. “You have a Democratic administration that created a federal mandate regarding vaccinations, and I believe that most Republicans are fairly well interested in finding a way to eliminate that mandate.”

More than two dozen draft proposals seek to accomplish that goal, with titles that include “State Sovereignty re: vaccination policies,” “Litigation Fund to fight federal overreach,” and “no proof of vaccines for services or employment.”

Other proposals appear to call into question the safety of the vaccines, seek to ban “vaccine passports,” place limits on medical information that can be shared, and prohibit mask mandates.

Rep. Blanksma said she believes the House and Senate are in good agreement about the goals of the special session, and that barring unforeseen hurdles, lawmakers may wrap up their business in short order.

“We’re hopeful we will be done in three days. That’s the plan right now,” Blanksma said. “If we’re done earlier, that’s even better.”

Committee heads get to set their own agendas, Blanksma said, but they are under instructions from House Speaker Scott Bedke not to drift from the main focus of the special session.

The aims of the special session drew condemnation from an Idaho business lobbying group. While the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry opposes federal vaccination requirements, the group said in a written statement that it also opposes the state creating more rules for businesses.

“Putting Gem State employers between…conflicting mandates only further burdens businesses trying to manage their way through this pandemic while keeping Idaho’s economy moving forward,” IACI President Alex LaBeau said.

In the statement, LaBeau said lawmakers’ plan to use legislation as a cudgel against the White House was designed “for the purpose of scoring political points and appealing to a tiny philosophical fringe.”

During the special session, Idaho House members may also take up a recommendation from the body’s Ethics Committee. In early August, the panel recommended stripping a committee assignment from Rep. Priscilla Geddings. The White Bird Republican publicized the identity of a former legislative intern that had accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of rape. Geddings has maintained she did nothing wrong, though she avoided answering questions about her actions during an Ethics Committee hearing.

The House Ways and Means Committee will meet at 7:30 a.m. MST, with the full House following at 9:00 a.m. MST.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.