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Idaho Lawmakers Consider Blocking Vaccine Mandates In Special Session

House Speaker Scott Bedke
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho’s top two lawmakers are weighing whether they should reconvene the legislature this year, as some legislators and other elected officials want to block private employers from forcing workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin wrote a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) last week, urging him to take up the issue. It came shortly after Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s said their Idaho employees must get a COVID-19 vaccine by September or they could be fired.

“I don’t like the idea of mandates, but I also don’t like the idea of the government getting in the middle of a contract between an employer and an employee,” Bedke said Tuesday.

He also said any potential special session needs to have a general consensus between the House and Senate on what they’ll debate.

“We do not want to come back into special session and not accomplish anything,” Bedke said.

If lawmakers return to Boise, it would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each day they’re there in lawmakers' per diem, as well as staff salaries.

Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) said Tuesday he hasn’t made up his mind whether he’d support a special session or employer mandates.

“When does it become something that’s a contract right between the employer and the employee, versus something that says ‘Hey, this is still an experimental vaccine. I shouldn’t be forced to take it,’” Winder said.

He will meet with Senate Republicans on Friday to discuss the issue.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, an influential lobbying group representing the biggest employers in the state, issued a letter to lawmakers opposing a special session.

Alex LaBeau, the group's president, wrote: "At issue is the long-common and necessary practice of requiring vaccines for the safe operation of commerce."

He pointed out members of the military, college students and religious missionaries are all required to get different vaccines.

"Unfortunately, erroneous information continues to be pushed by those who would seek political gain at the expense of saving lives. They would even go so far as to create new government regulation on businesses to suit their personal ambitions," LaBeau wrote.

The letter specifically called out by name McGeachin, who's running for governor next year. It also included a quote of support from Bedke, a candidate for lieutenant governor, who said, "There’s been over 300 million doses given with minimal problems ... A tightly held tenet of the Republican Party is to stay out of the employer-employee relationship."

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!

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