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Business group opposes Idaho lawmakers setting vaccine rules


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BOISE (AP) — The state’s top business lobby group will oppose any attempts by the Legislature to impose restrictions on businesses requiring employees get COVID-19 vaccines, the group’s president said in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry President Alex LaBeau told lawmakers that such a law would put “tyrannical practices on the free market.”

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Monday, mainly to pass a law or laws to thwart President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates. But potential laws aimed at preventing Idaho employers from requiring employees get the coronavirus vaccine are also likely to be introduced by far-right Republican lawmakers.

Most mainstream Republicans are wary of government getting between employers and employees, including Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder. Both have said lawmakers will look at legislation that would allow the state to initiate legal action over federal vaccine mandates on private employers. The legislation would include $2 million for a potential legal battle.

But about a dozen potential laws are expected to be brought forward next week, Bedke has said, to see how much support they get. Those proposed laws are likely to include some from far-right lawmakers that would prevent Idaho employers from requiring employees get the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s not clear how they will do in the House and Senate if brought forward.

“As we hear about possible legislation from self-proclaimed ‘champions of liberty and limited government’ in support of guaranteed salaries and stripping the rights of entrepreneurs, we couldn’t stand by quietly as this thinly cloaked socialism gets wrapped up in a facade of freedom,” LaBeau wrote.

Republican Sen. Todd Lakey, a more moderate lawmaker, was one of six lawmakers who signed a letter last summer voicing opposition to health care providers requiring employees to be vaccinated or potentially fired.

“That was certainly a concern of mine when the hospitals and health care providers were talking about terminating people because of them not being vaccinated,” said Lakey, who is vaccinated. “I’m trying to find the right balance to not insert government into the private sector. My position is that I respect the individual’s choice.”

Idaho is already involved in two lawsuits against the Biden administration involving vaccine mandates for federal workers and another involving vaccine mandates for employers with more than 100 workers as set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under that rule, workers who aren’t vaccinated by Jan. 4 would have to wear a mask and be tested weekly.

LaBeau noted the lawsuits to lawmakers.

“While we applaud Governor (Brad) Little for joining a multi-state lawsuit against President Biden’s gross overreach to infringe on private businesses’ rights to set the COVID-19 health standards they see fit, we are dismayed that the Idaho Legislature now seeks to convene to tell Idaho employers how to run their businesses,” he wrote.

He said lawmakers should wait until the lawsuits are decided before taking any action.

“There is no sound reason for the Legislature to be in session until that happens,” he wrote. “Many of the actions currently being discussed by legislators would have a devastating impact on Idaho employers and will lead to business closures, job losses and a setback for our economy.”