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Bill would charge Idaho public officials with crime for aiding Biden vaccine mandate

Coronavirus

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — State or local public officials in Idaho could face jail time if they help the federal government enforce COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

In the Legislature’s Federalism Committee on Monday, lawmakers recommended draft legislation by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens. Vick’s bill would charge government officials with a misdemeanor if they violate a state law on immunization, which allows residents to decline to get immunized without “threat of penalty by the federal government.”

The bill would penalize individuals, not agencies, for the violations. Anyone with a misdemeanor can face up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine, or both.

Vick, who co-chairs the Federalism Committee, said the courts decide whether the federal government can mandate vaccines for its own employees or contractors. But the state can determine what to do with its own employees, he said.

“What we can do for sure is, we can say, ‘We won’t help,’” Vick said. “That’s clearly a part of our state sovereignty. … Employees will not help the government to implement these mandates that I believe are illegal and unconstitutional.”

For months, state senators and House Republican leaders have resisted calls to reconvene over private businesses’ COVID-19 vaccine mandates. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has said that he won’t call the House to reconvene until the majority of both chambers can agree on any possible legislation.

All Republicans on the Federalism Committee supported recommending Vick’s draft bill on Monday. The legislation would still need to go through a regular process during the next session, first with discussion through a legislative committee.

Vick said he wants the Legislature to reconvene and pass the legislation before the next federal mandate for contractors goes into place on Nov. 3, at the latest.

BIDEN’S PLAN WOULD MANDATE COVID-19 VACCINES FOR FEDERAL CONTRACTORS

President Joe Biden last month announced plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccines among federal workers and federal contractors. He also directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to craft a rule mandating that employees of businesses with 100 or more workers either get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing.

Idaho Republican senators, Bedke and Gov. Brad Little have been outspoken against Biden’s plan. The Federalism Committee began to meet over Biden’s plan in late September, with the intent on finding a bill the Legislature could pass.

Lawmakers earlier this year had the longest session in Idaho’s history, including recesses, which raked in costs for taxpayers. House members at that time had introduced more sweeping measures to prohibit vaccine mandates that failed to garner support in the Senate.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a member of the Federalism Committee, also made a motion Monday to recommend three other bills for consideration. That motion failed, though members said those bills could still be considered during the session.

A bill by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, modeled off a Montana law, would have prevented anyone from withholding services or employment based on immunization status. Another bill, by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, would have added vaccine exemptions to state code. And a third bill by Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, would have prevented employers from requiring vaccines after a worker’s date of hire.

Horman said she received some of the draft legislation just 20 minutes before the Federalism Committee meeting began, but believed those bills warrant serious consideration from lawmakers.

“It’s hard to discuss something you haven’t had time to read,” Horman told the Idaho Statesman. “I did think that some of those ideas contained in those other bills were important to Idaho …. I thought they deserved to be brought forward to the full Legislature, to go through a much more thorough vetting process than we were able to do today.”

The two Democrats on the committee, Rep. Chris Mathias, of Boise, and Sen. David Nelson, of Moscow, opposed all recommendations. Nelson said that while some residents want the right to not get vaccinated, others want a right to a safe workplace, and legislators are “going down the wrong path.”

Mathias said he thought lawmakers were at risk of breaking another state law, and cited Idaho code on venereal diseases that makes it a felony for knowingly exposing someone to AIDS or HIV infection.

“We are free to refuse treatments, but we are not free to infect others,” Mathias said, “and I think that’s kind of the underlying question here.”

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