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Idaho legislature leaves Boise without acting on vaccine mandates

The dome of the Idaho Statehouse at sunset with an American flag and Idaho flag.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho lawmakers are heading home after failing to pass a single bill this week to address workplace vaccine mandates.

Ultimately, the legislature could only agree on a non-binding statement saying they opposed the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing mandates.

Senate leaders Wednesday considered just three bills passed by the House the day before, but held all of them in committee.

Among them was a proposal to change the state worker’s compensation program to include those who experienced side-effects from mandated vaccines. Another would’ve blocked employers from questioning someone’s religious exemption claims.

One would’ve created a new, protected class for those who are unvaccinated, forcing businesses to serve them.

House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) said he feels both chambers were close to compromise and might reach agreement early next year.

“There’s never a clear path forward when you have a federal mandate,” Bedke said.

The administrative rule from the Biden administration would require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or test their workforce on a weekly basis.

That rule is currently held up in federal courts after several states, including Idaho, sued to halt it.

For Bedke, companies should meet a high bar to put in place a vaccine mandate.

“I believe that the ultimate solution lies with a business having to prove that they have a business necessity,” he said.

The bill to include any adverse reactions to vaccines under Idaho’s worker’s compensation program had strong, bipartisan support in the House, passing 67-3.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate State Affairs Committee agreed with the idea, along with other proposals floated, but said they needed to be refined.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) worried untested legal language in these bills could have unintended consequences.

“What we are going to do is subject the private sector as a kind of punching bag to pay the legal costs that are associated with sorting all of this out,” Burgoyne said.

In all, the House introduced nearly 30 bills this week.

“That’s almost a mission impossible for three days,” said Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise).

Big businesses, like Micron and Simplot, didn’t testify in the House, but came out against the proposals Wednesday to Senate leaders.

Many people who testified throughout the week vastly inflated vaccine deaths, which are incredibly rare.

One man compared COVID vaccines to a eugenics program and another woman said they were like the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Winder said these people are scared by misinformation.

“I think people are just looking for ways to find some comfort, again, to find some normality in their lives and in their family and we haven’t had that now for a year and a half,” he said.

State officials estimate the three-day session could cost taxpayers upwards of $100,000.

Legislators will return to Boise for the next legislative session Jan. 10.

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

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

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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!