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Idaho legislative interim committee gears up to fight Biden’s COVID-19 rule

The Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism meets Thursday, Sept. 21, 2021, at the Statehouse. (Photo by Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism meets Thursday, Sept. 21, 2021, at the Statehouse. (Photo by Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Committee next meets on Tuesday and again on Oct. 4 in Boise

Several Republican legislators expressed an eagerness to challenge President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccination and testing rules during an Idaho Legislature’s interim committee meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse.

Meanwhile, Idaho Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane tamped down that enthusiasm somewhat, advising legislators the state is “probably cordoned off” from having authority over certain elements of Biden’s plan, especially those that involve federal rules for federal employees.

The discussions came during a roughly seven-hour first meeting of theIdaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism, which has eight Republicans and two Democrats.

On Sept. 14, Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, tasked the Committee on Federalism with providing “a comprehensive plan to vigorously defend the Idaho values we hold dear against this administration’s unrelenting acts of federal overreach.”

Then on Friday, Gov. Brad Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and two Republican legislative leaders signed a letter to Bidenthreatening legal action if he doesn’t repeal the new rules.

The aim of the committee is to create a state response to Biden’s new COVID-19 rules that he announced Sept. 9.

Biden announced three rules, Kane told legislators on the committee.

  • One requires federal employees to be vaccinated. 
  • The second requires employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated.
  • The third is an announcement directing the Department of Labor to issue a temporary standard under OSHA to require employers with more than 100 employees to require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, or tested weekly.

Kane told legislators the Biden administration hasn’t yet published the emergency standard for large employers.
“I know that folks want to address it and be aggressive with it, but it’s also one of those areas where until we know what the actual standard is, it’s very hard to address it affirmatively,” Kane said.

Kane also said there may not be much the Idaho Legislature can do to fight federal rules for federal employees.

“The federal government’s authority over federal employees is probably one of those areas that is probably cordoned off from state inference, right,” Kane told the committee. “The federal government employs the federal employees; they get the say in that.”

Despite Kane’s word of caution, several legislators called for the Legislature to reconvene and take the issue on.

“I look forward to getting back into session with you in the next two weeks, if not sooner, to address these issues,” Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, told committee members.

Ehardt is not a member of the Committee on Federalism, but she traveled to Boise to testify at the hearing.

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the Legislature needs to get involved because he said America is being conquered by fear, and people are surrendering their liberties.

The Committee on Federalism also took testimony, in-person and remotely online, for several hours. The majority of those who spoke opposed Biden’s vaccine rules and talked about freedoms and making personal choices with their own bodies.

But several people who testified remotely also expressed support for Biden’s rule and for increased steps to fight the pandemic, which claimed the lives of more than 2,600 Idahoans and created a strain on the health care system that forced the state to activate crisis standards of care.

“Please do not start a lawsuit to stop this,” Margarite Shaw told the committee. ‘Let’s get everybody vaccinated, let’s get the politics away from COVID, deal with the science, deal with what is out there and stop this pandemic.”

So far, Speaker Bedke has not called for the Legislature to reconvene in Boise. However, he told the Idaho Capital Sun on Aug. 31 that he could call the House back if someone put forward a draft bill that already has the support behind it to pass the Idaho House and Idaho Senate.

Last week a group of 16 legislators from the more conservative wing of the Republican party tried and failed to establish a quorum at the Statehouse.

But as they talked on the House floor, legislators said one lawmaker may have a draft bill with nearly 36 House votes behind it. Bedke’s standard was for a bill to have 36 committed votes in the House and 18 in the Senate.

The committee did not make any final decisions or take any votes Wednesday. The committee is scheduled to reconvene again on Tuesday and Oct 4.

Committee meetings are streamed live online, for free, using Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.