Gem State Roundup

Proposed bill would prohibit child safety investigations in Idaho based on immunization status

By: - January 26, 2023 4:36 pm
Idaho Capitol Building

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 11, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

A bill that would prohibit immunization status from being a factor in child protection investigations or termination of parental rights was introduced in the Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, but Sen. Carl Bjerke, R-Coeur d’Alene, appeared in his place to present it.

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

Under Idaho law, the termination of parental rights can be considered when one or more of the following conditions exist:

  • The parent has abandoned the child
  • The parent has neglected or abused the child
  • The presumptive parent is not the biological parent of the child
  • The parent is unable to discharge parental responsibility in a way that is endangering a child’s wellbeing
  • The parent is incarcerated and likely to remain incarcerated for a substantial period of time

Termination of rights can also be considered when a child is conceived as a result of rape, incest or lewd conduct with a minor and in cases where the child has been sexually abused or the parent committed another type of crime, according to Idaho law.

Lenney’s bill adds one sentence to that section of Idaho Code stating, “The court shall not grant an order terminating the relationship based upon the child’s immunization status.”

Greg Stahl, a spokesman for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the Idaho Capital Sun in an email that there has not been a case in the department’s known history when a parent’s parental rights have been terminated or a parent has been investigated because of immunization status. Stahl said there may be cases where a parent’s decision not to immunize has been part of a report, but it would never be a reason for a referral to be assigned for safety assessment by the child welfare division of the department

On his Facebook page, Lenney said he brought the bill forward in part because of a story out of Arizona when the state’s Department of Child Safety broke into a home to take custody of a 2-year-old they believed to be experiencing a medical emergency. Lenney said in his post that it was because the child was not vaccinated, but reporting from the Washington Post showed doctors were concerned the child had meningitis because he had a high fever and had not been vaccinated.

The committee did not discuss the merits of the bill but agreed to print it for a full hearing that could take place in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in the coming weeks of the legislative session.


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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.