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Resurrected bills take aim (again) at COVID-19 vaccines

Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

Lawmakers this week resurrected two bills targeting COVID-19 vaccines in Idaho. Sen. Ben Adams (R-Nampa) revived last year’s ‘Coronavirus Pause Act’ as the ‘Coronavirus Stop Act.’

It would prohibit any business in Idaho from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for work or venue access and make the law permanent.

Governor Brad Little vetoed last year’s ‘Pause’ act, calling it government overreach. The Senate was unable to override the veto.

The new version, SB1130, is only slightly different from a year ago.

“Initially it was a criminal penalty and we moved it to civil, and what it is now, is that the Attorney General has the ability to prosecute if there’s enough evidence,” Adams told the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee March 8. The bill also makes the change permanent, compared to a single-year pause in the bill vetoed by the Governor.

It includes exceptions for any business receiving medicare or Medicaid funding, federal workers or if an employee needs to travel to a destination where COVID-19 vaccines are required. It also codifies the executive order signed by Gov. Little in 2021 banning the state from requiring vaccines for employment or services.

“The state has a monopoly on force, and In 2020 and 2021, what we saw was some of that monopoly on force and coercion leak into the private sector, on a vaccine that we now know does not stop transmission and does not stop infection,” Adams said.

He said businesses choosing to do what they thought was right for their employees by mandating the vaccine “seems wrong.”

Liza Leonard was the only person to testify on the bill. She appeared on behalf of Ball Ventures, an Idaho Falls-based commercial real estate group opposed to the legislation.

“It is an inappropriate venture for the legislature to put these types of limits on business,” she said. The company has concerns about the bill’s potential effect on the state’s at-will employment law.

“We have opinions from the previous attorney general and one from the current attorney general that nothing in this bill threatens our ‘at-will’ work status,” Adams told the committee.

He pushed back on the notion that the bill makes vaccination status a ‘protected class,’ which could put it on an equal legal footing with race, religion or disability, among others.

“It’s saying, we don’t want people to divide our state on this issue.”

The bill passed to the Senate floor on a party-line vote.

Friday, Sen. Tammy Nichols (R-Middleton) returned to the House Committee on Health and Welfare to introduce an updated version of a bill that would ban the use of mRNA vaccines in Idaho. A previous version introduced by that committee was tabled due to its inclusion of all mammals, including livestock.

“We were asked by agriculture to make one little change, so we pulled out the portion of 'mammal.' The rest of it remains the same,” Nichols told the committee, which introduced the bill for a hearing without discussion.

Messenger RNA vaccines deliver instructions to the body to create antibodies against a virus, instead of delivering inert virus pieces into the body, as with traditional vaccines, to trigger the same immune response.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna utilize mRNA delivery and have received full approval from the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Millions of Americans received mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 after they were introduced in early 2021 under emergency use authorizations.

In Idaho, state data show 976,522 people are considered fully vaccinated, though it’s not clear how many chose mRNA vaccines instead of traditional single-shot vaccines from other manufacturers.

Under the proposed legislation, administering an mRNA-based vaccine would be a misdemeanor offense; if passed by both chambers and signed by the Governor, the law would take effect on July 1, 2023.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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