Bill prohibiting immunization considerations in child protection cases advances in Idaho Senate

Sponsor calls legislation a ‘layer of protection’ to state’s already broad immunization statute

By: - February 6, 2023 4:38 pm
health care worker gives a COVID shot

The Idaho Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee unanimously voted to advance a bill that would prohibit immunization status from being a factor in child protection investigations or termination of parental rights. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

After discussions of alleged vaccine-related child protection situations in states as far away as Maine, but none in Idaho, the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee unanimously voted to advance a bill that would prohibit immunization status from being a factor in child protection investigations or termination of parental rights.

Senate Bill 1029 will receive a vote from the full Senate in the coming days of the session.

Sen. Brian Lenney
Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa (Courtesy of the Idaho Legislature)

While the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare encourages vaccinations and children from preschool through 12th grade are required to be vaccinated before attending school, Idaho Code includes exemptions for medical, religious, “or other grounds.” According to Pew Research Center, Idaho is one of 15 states that have personal and religious exemptions for childhood vaccines.

Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, sponsored the bill and presented it to the committee Monday, acknowledging there have not been any documented cases with vaccination status as the reason for a child protection investigation or termination of parental rights with the Idaho health department. Greg Stahl, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the Idaho Capital Sun when the bill was introduced that while vaccination status might come up in a child protection report, it would never be a reason for a referral for investigation.

Lenney said the bill was necessary as a preventative measure.

“If we add a layer of protection that explicitly prohibits this, I don’t see how that could be a bad thing,” Lenney said.


Legislators, two residents express support for Idaho’s child protection, immunization bill

Lenney cited child protection cases related to vaccination from Maine, where there are no non-medical exemptions for vaccination, and Tiffany Kreck, the co-founder of a group called Health Choice Maine testified remotely to the committee. Kreck said in her view, without specific research, that the problem of vaccine-related child protection investigations is becoming more prevalent across the country.

Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls (Courtesy of the Idaho Legislature)

“Just because something happened in Maine does not mean it’s happening in Idaho,” said Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, in response to Lenney’s examples.

Two other people testified at the hearing saying they supported the bill and parental rights and expressed distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, said he was not aware of any legal proceedings related to immunization status in Idaho either, but said he has seen parents “grilled and intimidated” into giving their children immunizations.

“Maybe Idaho hasn’t reached yet where we’re seeing court decisions based on immunizations, but if we haven’t seen it, we will see it soon,” Foreman said.

Foreman added that the bill is “very timely” given the examples from Maine and three other states.

Sen. Dan Foreman
Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow (Courtesy of the Idaho Legislature)

“The right for parents to choose what happens to their children is a seminal issue in the state of Idaho,” Foreman said. “It’s one of the reasons I live in the state of Idaho. Parental rights reigns supreme. This bill will strengthen that, and I fully support it.”

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said she wanted to make it clear that her support for the bill was not meant to indicate support or opposition to the COVID vaccine or any other vaccines but just that it was a policy of clarity for families.

Hartgen said she would also support sending the bill to the floor, but said she reserved the right to change her mind when it comes up for a full vote.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.