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Local lawmakers explain why they aren’t in Boise for a special session

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IDAHO FALLS — As some Idaho lawmakers gathered at the Statehouse in Boise Wednesday to try and reconvene the Legislative session, legislators representing Districts 30 and 31 chose to remain at home in eastern Idaho.

Efforts to reconvene the Legislature were launched among some lawmakers over the weekend in response to President Biden’s sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate last Thursday. The mandate requires employees at companies with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly.

RELATED | New rule mandates all employers with over 100 workers require vaccinations or weekly tests

Legislators throughout the state are angry about it, calling it unconstitutional and a massive overreach of the federal government. Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, led an effort to form a quorum in Boise and reconvene the Legislature, which was never officially adjourned earlier this year. A resolution that left the House in recess said legislators could reconvene with the approval of House Speaker Scott Bedke.

As of Wednesday, no formal meeting was planned, making Scott’s efforts to form a quorum illegitimate.

“A group of legislators have every right to go to the Statehouse and make a statement, but a group of legislators do not have the right to convene either the House or the Senate. That has to be done through a formal process and we’ve simply chosen to respect that formal process,” District 30 Representative Gary Marshall said during a news conference. “It wouldn’t do the House of Representatives any good to be in session without the Senate. We can’t pass legislation without the Senate participating.”

RELATED | ‘Unacceptable’: Idaho legislators weigh returning to session over vaccine mandates

Representatives Marshall, Wendy Horman, Barbara Ehardt, Marco Erickson, along with Senators Kevin Cook and Dave Lent, attended a news conference at the Hilton Garden inn Wednesday. Horman began by reading a joint statement from the group.

“Recent announcements from the Biden Administration mandating COVID-19 vaccines have inserted the federal government into the everyday lives of Americans and American businesses in an unprecedented manner.

As Bonneville County legislators, we are united in opposing these federal mandates, and we urge employers not to require the vaccine as a condition of employment.

We are working with fellow legislators to find solutions and will support legislation to put protections in place for Idaho citizens that prohibit vaccine mandates.

We encourage and will support efforts to see that these protections are put in place as soon as possible.”

Legislators clearly stated they are not against getting the vaccine, nor are they endorsing it. They are simply standing up for people’s right to make that choice for themselves and they aren’t the only ones who feel that way.

The Idaho National Laboratory is one of the area’s largest employers, many of whom live inside the Legislative District boundary in Bonneville County. Though INL Director John Wagner has already said the facility will comply with the federal mandate, nearly 400 INL employees had signed a petition Monday afternoon asking management to delay its implementation until it could be reviewed by a federal judge.

RELATED | Who will be impacted by federal vaccine mandates in eastern Idaho?

The number of Bonneville County jobs coming from federal funds poses a challenge, Lent says, but it’s a challenge people are ready to take on.

“Many of these jobs at-risk are long-term jobs,” Lent says. “Here we are threatening to fire people over something that will probably run its course in the next six months. It does not make sense, it’s an overreach and we need to do what we can to put that in its place and to stop it.”

Dave Lent
District 33 Senator Dave Lent addressing the media during a press conference in Idaho Falls. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

After meeting with INL employees, District 33 Representative Marco Erickson tells EastIdahoNews.com he’s learned there is a potential medical and religious exemption available to INL employees, though many religious leaders, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have publicly praised the vaccine and encouraged members to get vaccinated.

RELATED | Latter-day Saint Church leaders encourage COVID-19 vaccination, and wearing masks

Earlier this week, the Idaho Statesman reported tax dollars fund the legislature every day it’s in session, implying it’s a concern for legislators. During the press conference, Ehardt clarified that by saying if a special session were convened, it would not cost the taxpayers anything because funding is available through the American Rescue Plan Act, which are federal funds given to states to address responses to COVID-19.

The cost of one daily session is between $30,000 and $35,000, according to Horman.

And for those who think efforts to reconvene the Legislature are driven by money, Ehardt says that’s not true.

“As legislators, we do not get paid,” Ehardt explained. “There is a false narrative out there suggesting that somehow we are making money by going into special session. We only get our $130 a day to pay for per diem. When you’re in a special session like that, it comes out of our own pocket … so this is strictly out of duty to our citizens.”

RELATED | Far-right bid to reconvene Legislature called grandstanding

Though there are no plans to reconvene, Bedke, Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder and Governor Brad Little issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they were working with the Attorney General’s office to “take legal action to stop President Biden’s unprecedented government overreach into the private sector.”

Options for the state’s response going forward are currently being discussed, but Horman anticipates it will ultimately end up in the Supreme Court. More information will be provided as it continues to unfold.

“Idaho is a state that is known for its freedom. We take care of each other and we need to be able to move forward as a sovereign state, doing the things that are right for our people,” Ehardt said.

barbara ehardt
District 33 Representative Barbara Ehardt addressing the media during a press conference in Idaho Falls. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
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