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A Coronavirus Liability Bill In Idaho Is Getting Pummelled Across The Political Spectrum

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s largest teachers’ union is blasting a proposal that would limit the liability schools would bear related to the coronavirus, which might be taken up during this month’s special session. 

In a statement Thursday, the Idaho Education Association said the bill is “filled with flaws and trap doors,” which it says would give school districts the ability to disregard their own pandemic safety plans.

The proposal, which is expected to be discussed by a legislative committee Friday morning, would also waive civil liability to anyone who is acting in “good faith” during an emergency, including businesses, even if they disregarded recommendations or guidelines made by the state or public health officials. Any failure to comply in good faith with a state law, rule or order issued by a government entity, like a mask mandate, would not give that person, business or school district legal cover under the bill.

IEA President Layne McInelly said this proposal from state lawmakers is sending the exact opposite message that parents, districts and the community should be getting.

“[Lawmakers] wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t see a concern so huge red flags jumped out once we saw, or once I saw, they were trying to take the accountability away,” McInelly said.

Reopening schools in Idaho for in-person classes has created a backlash on both sides of the issue. Some parents argue their kids’ academic growth and personal development will be stunted by online learning, while others say it’s just not safe to return yet.

Instead of this proposal, McInelly said legislators should be focused on hiring enough teachers to accommodate staggered schedules ensuring students have access to enough nurses and counselors and implementing sufficient technology for remote learning.

“Parents and educators deserve safe school environments and transparency as they make decisions on returning to school buildings during a pandemic that is far from being under control in most parts of the state,” McInelly wrote in the letter.

The proposal has also garnered opposition from the influential lobbying group, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. 

"That Idaho’s state government will be absolved of any wrongdoing stemming from its own actions is bad enough," IFF President Wayne Hoffman wrote in a recent op-ed. "That businesses would be coerced to faithfully administer and enforce the government statutes and regulations, even if they’re wrong, immoral, or inappropriate, is also troubling."

Hoffman pointed to examples of unjust laws enforced throughout U.S. history, like the internment of Japanese Americans or requiring anyone to capture and return runaway slaves to their southern masters.

Gov. Brad Little will announce next week which bills will be taken up during the special session.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!