BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Most Idaho employers can no longer require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gov. Brad Little, who last year vetoed a nearly identical bill and called it “government overreach,” quietly signed Senate Bill 1130 on Thursday.
The new law prohibits private and public employers from requiring coronavirus vaccines as a condition of employment, with some exceptions, including for health care workers.
“While he vetoed a similar bill in 2022 … Gov. Little signed Senate Bill 1130 this year because we are not experiencing overwhelming impacts to our health care system due to COVID-19 infections,” Madison Hardy, Little’s spokesperson, said by email. “In addition, with our progress in making vaccine and therapeutics for COVID-19 widely available, he is confident we will be able to better manage COVID-19 into the future.”
Little’s approval is a reversal from when the Republican vetoed Senate Bill 1381, which was almost identical except for the enforcement mechanism. This year’s bill gives the attorney general and local prosecutors the authority to enforce the law. The previous version would have codified criminal penalties.
“Limiting enforcement options to the discretion of these elected officials if and when conditions permit provides more accountability to the voters,” Hardy said.
The new law also bans so-called coronavirus “vaccine passports,” or vaccination requirements to enter a private business or venue.
Employers are exempt from the law if they receive funding through Medicare or Medicaid. Jobs that require travel outside of Idaho, where vaccines are required, also are exempt.
The law does not apply to federal jobs within the state, nor does it affect existing employee contracts. The new prohibition became effective with Little’s signature.
“I have been consistent in stating my belief that businesses should be left to make decisions about the management of their operations and employees with limited interference from government,” Little wrote last year in a veto letter.
Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobby that includes some of the state’s largest employers, said the group did not oppose the bill but also wasn’t “enthusiastic” about it. Members did not come to a unanimous decision on the group’s stance, he said.
“Some arguments were made on both sides,” LaBeau told the Idaho Statesman by phone. “We did not oppose it, largely because those exemptions were put in there that allow us to continue to mandate (the vaccine) if it’s part of the job description.”
‘FORCE’ BY EMPLOYERS, DOUBTS ABOUT VACCINES MOTIVATED SUPPORT
Senate Bill 1130 sponsor Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, said the legislation would ensure employers can’t mandate coronavirus vaccines in the future. The law does not apply to other vaccines.
“I’m not a huge advocate for force, but if we are going to decide who is going to have that ability, to have a monopoly on force, I sure as heck don’t want it to be my employer,” Adams told a Senate committee last month.
Liza Leonard, director of public affairs for Ball Ventures, an Idaho Falls commercial real estate firm, told lawmakers the company was “fundamentally opposed” to the “anti-business bill.”
“It is an inappropriate direction for our legislature to put these types of limits on business,” Leonard told senators last month. “As employers we must have the ability to manage our employees in a manner that allows us to keep our business operational.”
Doubts about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine motivated some Republicans to support the bill. Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said during a House committee meeting last month that COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been effective at preventing transmission of the coronavirus.
That claim is inaccurate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are “effective at preventing COVID-19,” the federal agency’s website said. A study published last year found that unvaccinated people were three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
Up-to-date COVID-19 vaccines continue to “protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death in adults,” CDC guidance says. “Effectiveness against infection has waned across all age groups, but this is expected.”