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Idaho business association leader on vaccine mandates: Legislature should ‘stay out of it’

James Max
The Idaho State Capitol building is located in Boise. (Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun)

Survey conducted in July showed majority of respondents did not think state should intervene

A telephone survey of 400 individuals across Idaho found that 66% of respondents did not think the Idaho Legislature should try to stop businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, and 78% agree that Idaho politicians should not tell private businesses what to do.

The survey, conducted by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in July, has a margin of error of 4.9%.

Alex LaBeau, president of the association, hopes the survey sends a message to the Idaho Legislature as they consider whether to introduce legislation that would bar private businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated. The Legislature’s interim Committee on Federalism recently convened to discuss recent actions by President Joe Biden regarding vaccines, including an announcement that he would direct the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a temporary Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations against COVID or test employees weekly.

LaBeau expects the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue at some point, and he says any state legislation passed between now and then would muddy the process.

“I have told multiple elected officials that I think at this point we have to wait and determine what the Supreme Court says, because that will dictate the lay of the land,” LaBeau said. “And the only thing that the state can do right now is add to the chaos, because we don’t know what that decision will be. After that point in time, we’ll have to evaluate what the state’s role is, but we don’t see (a role) right now other than to just stay out of it.”

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has not yet called for the Legislature to reconvene in Boise.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has called on legislative leadership to bring state lawmakers back into session after several large health care systems in Idaho put in vaccine requirements for their workers. A small group of conservative legislators went to the Idaho Capitol in mid-September attempting to establish a quorum to allow the Legislature to consider bills that would fight vaccine mandates from Biden, from local hospitals and from other businesses that established their own mandates for employees. Legislators had hoped to achieve a quorum of at least 36 House members, but no more than 16 assembled that day at the Statehouse.

The Idaho Capital Sun previously reported in August that Bedke said 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.

Among those who said the Idaho Legislature should not make it illegal for private businesses, including hospitals, to require COVID vaccinations, 63% identified as Republicans and 66% identified as Democrats, while 72% were independents.

A telephone survey of 400 individuals across Idaho conducted by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry found that 66% of respondents did not think the Idaho Legislature should try to stop businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, and 78% agree that Idaho politicians should not tell private businesses what to do.

LaBeau added he and the association’s members aren’t enthusiastic about the federal requirements either, in part because the testing requirements come with lab capacity needs that Idaho may not have. But that doesn’t mean the Legislature needs to step in, he said.

“I know there’s a lot of people chomping at the bit to try and do something about this, but until we actually know what they can and cannot do … I tell them, don’t be part of the problem,” LaBeau said.

Nampa lawmaker says he hasn’t decided opinion on legislation

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, has struggled with his position on the Legislature’s role in the issue because he believes strongly in employer rights but is also against vaccine mandates. Youngblood is not vaccinated but says he may get the shot down the road once he feels more confident with how long it has been in use.

“I respect those who have taken the vaccine shot totally; I have no problem with anyone getting a shot if that’s what they want,” Youngblood said. “I respect them greatly. And I think that’s the key of all this, is respecting people’s decisions.”

While some jobs require the use of helmets or other certain equipment, Youngblood said that is different because those are external requirements, whereas a vaccine is internal.

Youngblood said he has less of an issue with businesses who require new employees to be vaccinated, since the employee will know about that requirement before taking the job. It’s a tougher call if it’s a new requirement for existing employees, he said.

“If I’m already on the job and it’s a new requirement or you lose your job, that’s a hard one,” Youngblood said. “I really struggle with that one.”

He said he has yet to see any legislation with specific proposals, but he is aware that there are “things in the works.” His support will depend on those details when they become known.

LaBeau blames misinformation and the advocacy groups that promote it for controversy over the vaccine, and said he is frustrated that they have to be in a position of trying to depoliticize the issue.

“Those that perpetuate (the politicization) need to look themselves very hard in the mirror and decide whether they’re a good person, because their messages are killing people,” he said.

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.