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Adams County passes ordinance against federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Vials of the Pfizer vaccine are ready to be administered at a health district vaccine clinic in Buhl
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Vials of the Pfizer vaccine are prepared for a health district clinic in Buhl.

Adams County in southwest Idaho passed an ordinance Monday prohibiting “discrimination based on a person’s vaccination status.”

The commissioners, including Viki Purdy who sits on the Southwest District Health Board of Health, voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance which was brought forward by County Prosecutor Chris Boyd, and which, among other things, says employers can’t refuse employment to someone based on their vaccination status.

Violating the ordinance could result in a misdemeanor, a fine of up to $2,000 and up to one year of imprisonment.

Commissioners passed a resolution on the topic in October after the Adams County Health Center announced it would be subject to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for health care workers under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The rules for health care workers do not allow them to substitute weekly testing for the shot, but there are religious and medical exemptions.

The health center in Council, which is the county’s largest private employer, gets 70% of its payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

“It may come down to the point that if the health center does not comply, that we could lose our Medicare and Medicaid status,” said Mary Ann Domecq, the chief financial officer, speaking during the October meeting. “That would cause the clinic to have to close.”

The CMS rule applies to 17 million health care workers, and the agency reports states and health systems have routinely issued vaccination requirements for diseases such as influenza and hepatitis B.

In public comment Monday, member of the public Wendy Green said the ordinance would put local employers in an “unwinnable” situation.

“They’d have to choose between complying with a federal regulation or complying with a local ordinance,” she said. “It doesn’t appear that it’s possible to do both.”

Boyd responded that employers should stand up for their unvaccinated employees.

“If you are immoral enough to fire someone just because the federal government said that you should, maybe you should back down, maybe you should quit your job,” he said.

In the two public meetings on this topic, Boyd invoked the Nazi regime, slavery in the U.S. and Japanese-American internment to argue against the federal vaccine requirements.

“If you think the federal government is done with its overreach, you’re insane,” Boyd said.

He said the county would likely have to defend this position in court.

Top Idaho lawmakers have been hesitant thus far to impose restrictions on employers’ abilities to require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but the issue is likely to come up during a special legislative session beginning next week.

Idaho has joined two lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for federal contractors and large businesses.

An analysis by the Biden administration found employee vaccination rates have increased more than 20 percentage points at organizations with such requirements.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.