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Idaho House Republicans rush to give legal cover to the unvaccinated

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

Idaho House Republicans want to outlaw businesses from refusing service to unvaccinated people.

House lawmakers passed the bill from Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) Tuesday, which would cement a person’s vaccination status as a protected class under Idaho’s human rights law.

Skaug called it a “freedom bill” to give people bodily autonomy.

If someone’s vaccination status is considered to be a protected class, Idaho businesses couldn’t refuse service or segregate customers who won’t get the shot.

Rep. Colin Nash (D-Boise) said a person’s vaccine status shouldn’t be protected like this under state law.

“I just don’t see this rising to the same level as [protected classes] like race, religion, sex, because they’re not on the same level. They’re not immutable characteristics, they’re not deeply held religious beliefs,” Nash said.

Skaug’s proposal would also block employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

“What’s happening now with some of these big companies is it’s a mandate for everybody, including the Pepsi truck driver that shows up at your door,” Skaug said. “That’s not right.”

The measure would apply to hospitals, though they could avoid violating the proposed law if they provide “reasonable” accommodations to unvaccinated employees, which aren't defined in the bill.

He said he modeled it off of a similar law in Montana. That law is currently facing court challenges.

A handful of House Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure.

State senators will take up the bill next.

The House also passed several other pieces of legislation Tuesday that still need approval by the Senate.

That includes another broadly-worded bill that allows a person to refuse medical treatment of any kind based on their religious beliefs.

House Bill 414, sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star), also bars government officials, employers and others from questioning the sincerity of those religious beliefs.

“If we are not here to protect and defend a foundational freedom like religious freedom, what are we here for,” asked Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle).

But several GOP lawmakers raised concerns over the proposal.

“Freedom of religion is incredibly important to protect,” said Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell), noting that when legislators alter or add to it in some way “…we’re playing with fire.”

Chaney said it could give cover for child abusers who neglect their kids and tell police it’s part of their religious practice.

Rep. Gary Marshall (R-Idaho Falls) gave an even more dire warning.

“If we allow people to use religion as the mask to do and say and be anything they want to be, you may, in fact, be causing the demise of religion itself,” Marshall said.

Still, Moyle said the legislature wouldn’t be reconvening if businesses were exempting people from vaccine mandates for their religious beliefs.

“My sincere religious beliefs aren’t your business, and I don’t want you eroding my beliefs,” he said.

House lawmakers also nearly unanimously passed a bill that would require employers with vaccine mandates to cover a worker's medical bills and other expenses if they had an adverse reaction to a shot.

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!