‘Unacceptable’: Idaho legislators weigh returning to session over vaccine mandates
Ian Max Stevenson & Hayat Norimine, Idaho Statesman
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – Since President Joe Biden’s announcement of sweeping new vaccine rules this week, discussions among Idaho legislators are again heating up over reconvening. One North Idaho legislator has already announced plans to return to Boise next week to address the topic.
In a Saturday newsletter, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said that some House members plan to “return to Boise for session next week” to address Biden’s vaccine mandates.
“This will be an attempt to attain 35-member quorum of committed legislators to pass a bill to protect individuals from medical tyranny,” Scott wrote.
Previous efforts for legislators to reconvene over Idaho hospitals that mandated vaccines for their workers failed to receive widespread support in the House and Senate. Biden’s sweeping plan affecting millions of workers has renewed interest in the possibility.
But other House Republicans are instead trying to find consensus on legislation before they bring lawmakers back, only if they can ensure the bill would pass.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, in a letter last week said any less than support from 36 House members and 18 senators would be a waste for taxpayers, whose dollars fund every day that legislators are in session. The Legislature this year had its longest session in history, including its weeks of recess due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Reached by phone on Saturday, House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said that House members could not return to session without the speaker’s approval, and that Scott had supported that resolution in May.
The resolution that left the House in recess said members would return “subject to the call of the speaker” no later than Dec. 31.
“There is no formal meeting planned whatsoever,” Blanksma told the Idaho Statesman.
LEGISLATORS TRY TO FIND CONSENSUS ON COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATES
For several weeks, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has been gathering a list of House members who would support returning to session to address vaccine mandates. But Crane said he doesn’t believe Scott’s effort to reconvene without the speaker’s approval is the right one.
Crane said he instead wants to “work through the process” that Bedke has outlined for legislators, to find a bill that enough state legislators will support to return to session. Crane said his list is up to 32 House members who would support legislation to ban vaccine mandates for nurses.
“At this point, I don’t think that (Scott’s plan) is a productive way to move forward,” Crane told the Statesman on Saturday.
On Thursday, Biden announced a plan to mandate vaccines for all employees of businesses with over 100 workers. Employees who decline to get vaccinated would have to be tested for COVID-19 weekly, and show negative results. To carry out the vaccine mandate, Biden has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a rule. Part of Biden’s announcement also included an expanded mandate for nurses and other health care industry workers.
“What the Biden administration announced yesterday is unacceptable,” Bedke, who’s running for lieutenant governor, said in a Friday statement.
Biden’s decision prompted some House members to renew their efforts to bring the Legislature back in session, a possibility that has been dangled since this year’s session ended in an unusual fashion this spring.
When the Senate adjourned in May, the House did not officially end its session. Instead, the chamber passed a resolution that left open the possibility of reconvening.
It’s also not the first time some House Republicans have tried to address COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Legislation in the past to try to ban such mandates failed in the Senate — another reason Bedke has said he wants support from the majority of senators before reconvening over vaccine mandates.
‘IT’S PRUDENT TO WAIT’ ON GOVERNOR’S ACTION, SENATE MAJORITY CAUCUS CHAIR SAYS
Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, couldn’t immediately be reached by phone Saturday. But Majority Caucus Chair Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, said senators won’t be easily sold.
Harris said that while he hasn’t yet discussed the issue with his entire caucus, it’s unclear whether a majority of senators would support any particular legislation. Throughout the summer, the appetite in the Senate to reconvene over vaccines has been less than in the House.
Harris told the Statesman that Winder has been working with Gov. Brad Little on possible lawsuits or executive orders to counter Biden’s mandates. Little announced he was “exploring” a potential lawsuit on Friday.
“I think it’s prudent to wait and see if the governor makes any headway on any legal action, and if it’s possible for the governor to issue any executive order to counter Biden’s mandate,” Harris said on Saturday. He added that the president’s efforts amount to “government overreach.”
But Crane said he believes Biden’s plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines will “expedite” the process of returning to session, believing that Little and Bedke will feel more pressure to return to the Capitol. Crane said Biden’s plan “100% made my job easier” as he continues to try to gather names in support of reconvening.
“You’re able to talk to your colleagues and say, ‘Really?” Crane said. “‘You want to adopt a Democratic position on this issue?’”