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Idaho Senate leaders call for meetings, not legislation, to address vaccine requirements

Idaho Senate In Session
Otto Kitsinger
The Senate in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Several large health care companies are requiring employees to be vaccinated by September

Republican leaders of the Idaho Senate are calling for government and business leaders to partner up to address vaccine requirements from several health care companies instead of adding regulations by writing legislation and passing laws.

In a statement issued Thursday, the senators called for business leaders, Gov. Brad Little’s office, and the House of Representatives and Senate leadership teams to participate in a series of meetings to “find solutions that will protect the employees, patients and the viability of our health care systems in Idaho.”

“Business thrives when government involvement is limited, and it is our hope that this issue can be resolved before more regulations, as the result of legislation, needs to be addressed,” the Senate Republicans’ statement said.

Last week, Saint Alphonsus Health System, St. Luke’s Health System and Primary Health Medical group announced they would require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by September.

In response to that, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin last week requested that Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, reconvene the Legislature to stop companies from requiring vaccines. McGeachin repeated her call in a press conference Thursday and then attended a large rally on the Statehouse steps in opposition to employer vaccine requirements.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, House and Senate Democrats issued a joint statement opposing bringing the Legislature back in session.

“No one is calling for the government to require people to vaccinate, and no one is proposing jail time for those unvaccinated people who spread COVID to others,” Assistant Senate Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said in a written statement. “What we are saying is that a natural consequence of choosing not to vaccinate is not being qualified to do certain types of work.

“I hate to see anyone lose their job, but shifting the burden of a decision not to vaccinate on to patients and coworkers is unsafe and contrary to the basic expectation that health care workers do no harm,” Burgoyne added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, who signed the Senate GOP statement, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Normally, only the governor is allowed to call the Legislature back in for a special legislative session. But on May 12 the House voted against adjourning the session for the year and instead voted to take an extended recess until no later than Dec. 31. House Republicans have been clear that the move not to adjourn was deliberate.

“The House chose not to (adjourn) sine die for this very reason, knowing that issues such as this could probably arise, as well as others, and that they would need to be addressed during this uncertain time that we are living in,” Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said in a press conference Thursday.

“Myself and many of my fellow legislators would like us to be called back into session to be able to address these concerns,” Nichols added.