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Politics & Government

Idaho House Speaker Leaves The Door Open To Ban Vaccine Mandates

House Speaker Scott Bedke, Speaker, House Speaker
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said he would call the legislature back into session to ban vaccine mandates on one condition: more than half of the House and Senate have to agree on a bill before he does so.

“Anything else would be an unacceptable waste of taxpayer money,” Bedke said in a letter to House and Senate members Thursday.

State senators attempted to adjourn for the year in May, but members of the House simply recessed. That means Bedke can reconvene the House any time before the end of the year, likely forcing the Senate to return within a few days and bypass Gov. Brad Little’s authority to call a special session.

Bedke said he believes getting the vaccine should be an individual choice someone makes with the consultation of their doctor.

But, he said, “I am troubled by the prospect of injecting government control into the private sector if a better solution is available.”

Bedke cited a recent poll that found Idahoans to be “very reluctant to have and, by wide margins, do not support increased government involvement in the operation of private businesses.”

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, an influential lobbying group made up of the state’s largest businesses, commissioned a poll of 400 likely voters in late July.

It found 66% of respondents didn’t want the Idaho legislature to make laws regulating vaccine mandates for private businesses – including 63% of Republican party members. Just 23% of those polled said legislators should make such mandates illegal.

Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa) has been trying to build consensus around banning vaccine mandates, saying people are in charge of their own bodies.

“That’s their private property, so to speak, and they should have the ability to determine what type of vaccine or what type of medicine to put into their body,” Crane said.

People should retain bodily autonomy, he said, even while some hospitals in Idaho are operating under crisis standards of care.

Crane said while he and his wife have chosen not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, he’s not against all vaccines, though none of them should be mandated as a condition of employment.

Lawmakers he’s spoken with, he said, are coalescing around the idea of legislation passed by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) and Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) earlier this year that allows parents to opt their children out of receiving required vaccines with a signed letter from a doctor.

Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke's health systems already allow for medical exemptions for their employees who are required to get the shot.

Another suggestion Crane has heard could involve stripping away tax subsidies for hospitals, though he said he isn’t sure if he would support doing so because it could exacerbate staffing and capacity levels that are already significantly stressed.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) agrees the government shouldn’t mandate vaccines and voted for a resolution saying as much earlier this year.

“I don’t think the government should be forcing people who don’t want them into vaccines. But I think there’s a difference when employers are putting conditions on employment that are tied to the ability to do that employment,” Rubel said.

With Idaho’s hospitals buckling under a surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by a more virulent delta variant, she said vaccine mandates from businesses are appropriate.

“It really seems to me pretty upside down to be looking at the crisis that’s facing us and saying, ‘We need to spring into action to crack down on vaccines,’” Rubel said.

Crane said the issue will be taken up in January if the legislature doesn’t reconvene this year.

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

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