Rotunda at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Republicans on the Idaho Legislature’s interim Committee on Federalism voted Monday to recommend the full Legislature consider a draft bill that would criminalize state and local government employees who implement President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing rules for employers.
Sen. Steve Vick, the Dalton Gardens Republican who is pushing the draft bill, said the Legislature should reconvene for a special session within the next 30 days to take the bill up.
“I would hope that we could address this issue at the very latest by the Nov. 3 deadline that those federal contractors would need to get their first shot so they know the Legislature is behind them,” Vick said during Monday’s meeting.
“That is a concern of mine that we don’t delay. These mandates are going to go in effect before the Legislature meets again. I do think a special session is necessary to address this issue.”
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As things stand now, the Idaho House of Representatives is on an extended recess, while the Idaho Senate adjourned for the year May 12.
The 2022 legislative session does not begin until Jan. 10.
The Committee on Federalism includes eight Republicans and two Democrats. Both Democrats — Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, and Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise — voted against Vick’s draft bill.
“When you look at other sections of state code where we have made it clear that you don’t have a right to infect others with certain viruses, I think the road we are going down could potentially conflict with that,” Mathias said during debate over the draft bill. “The Constitution holds we are free to refuse treatments, but we are not free to infect others.”
Vick said it will be up to Speaker of the Idaho House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, whether to reconvene the Legislature.
The Idaho Capital Sun has requested an interview with Bedke to discuss next steps and the process moving forward.
Under Vick’s bill, it would become a misdemeanor for state or local government employees to implement Biden’s vaccine rule.
“We cannot stop President Biden from implementing executive orders, but what we can do is say, ‘we’re not going to help you,’” Vick said during the meeting.
If passed into law, the bill would not apply to federal employees in Idaho, Vick said.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, voted in favor of recommending the full Legislature take Vick’s draft bill up, but he expressed concerns about the criminal penalty.
“I do get concerned with adding more misdemeanors to state code,” Johnson told the committee.
The draft bill is aimed at fighting Biden’s new rules for employers.
During the committee’s first meeting on Sept. 22, deputy attorney general Brian Kane said Biden recently announced three COVID-19 rules.
- One required federal employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
- The second required employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
- The third was an announcement directing the Department of Labor to issue a temporary standard under OSHA to require employers with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested weekly.
The Biden administration has not yet published the rule for large employers, Kane said, estimating it could come any time between now and the end of the year.
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Idaho Legislature’s interim Committee on Federalism has met several times this year
The Committee on Federalism, a legislative interim committee, first convened Sept. 22 after Bedke asked committee members to “provide a comprehensive plan to vigorously defend the Idaho values we hold dear against this administration’s unrelenting acts of federal overreach.”
The committee itself does not have the power to pass laws, which is why Vick, the committee’s co-chairman, said he thinks a special session is necessary.
During the 2021 legislative session, Vick sponsored Senate Bill 1110, which would have required organizers of a ballot initiative to gather signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 legislative districts. In August, the Idaho Supreme Court threw out Senate Bill 1110, ruling it unconstitutionally infringed upon Idahoans’ fundamental rights to ballot initiative and referendum powers.
It was not immediately clear Monday what the next steps forward would be. Bedke has previously told the Idaho Capital Sun he could call the Idaho House back into session if a proposed bill already has the committed support of a majority of members of the House to guarantee passage.
Since Gov. Brad Little announced the state’s first positive COVID-19 case on March 13, 2020, the state has reported that 2,963 Idahoans have died of COVID-19, as of Sunday.
About 52% of Idahoans 12 and older — those who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine — are fully vaccinated as of Sunday, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. The national vaccination rate for Americans 12 and older is 65.4%.
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