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House passes seven bills aimed at fighting vaccine, masking or testing requirements

The House chaplain leads a prayer to start the session at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The House chaplain leads a prayer to start the session at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

A Senate committee will next take up legislation on Wednesday

Legislative activity picked up Tuesday as the Idaho House of Representatives passed seven bills aimed at fighting COVID-19 rules from the federal government and employers, or providing exemptions from mandates.

The Idaho Senate received five of those bills Tuesday afternoon and referred them to the Senate State Affairs Committee but did not act on them Tuesday. The other two bills passed the Idaho House late Tuesday afternoon and were expected to be received by the Senate on Wednesday morning.

In order to become law, the seven bills the Idaho House passed would also need to pass out of committee in the Senate, then pass the Senate floor and avoid Gov. Brad Little’s veto stamp.

Legislators have not passed any laws yet this week, but both the House and Senate did adopt Senate Joint Memorial 105, a written statement in opposition to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 rules for employers. Click here to read the Idaho Capital Sun’s full story on Senate Joint Memorial 105.

Tuesday was the second legislative day since legislators reconvened at the Idaho State Capitol on Monday. It was also day 310 overall of the ongoing 2021 session, by far and away the longest session in state history.

While Monday’s first day back under the rotunda was about introducing new bills — 36 of them in all — as well as public hearings in committee and a House vote onan ethics complaint against Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, Tuesday featured more floor votes.

During a nearly six-hour afternoon session Tuesday, the Idaho House passed each of the seven bills it took up.

What do the bills that the Idaho House passed Tuesday do?

Here’s a rundown of the bills the House passed:

House Bill 412prevents discrimination based on vacciantion status or possessing a vaccine passport and makes it unlawful for state or local governments to withhold or deny access to goods or services, facilities, licensing, education, health care or employment opportunities. Sponsoring Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, said the bill uses the Idaho Human Rights Commission to protect people from immunization discrimination. During debate, Skaug said the solution is for employers to not mandate vaccines. Skaug also said the bill’s passage shouldn’t affect the ability of Idahoans to travel to other places that do require proof of vaccine or a negative test.

However, Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, warned it would be a mistake to create a new class of protection based on vaccination status under the Idaho Human Rights Act.

“I don’t see this rising to same level as protected classes like race, religion, sex, those types of things, because they are not on the same level,” Nash said during debate.

The bill passed 48-22.

House Bill 414 amends the Idaho Human Rights Act to prevent the government or an employer from questioning an employee who claims a religious exemption from required medical treatments.

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said the bill is necessary because she said Idahoans have attempted to seek exemptions from vaccine requirements on religious grounds and have been denied.

“You shouldn’t have to be an attorney with a law degree and years of experience to be able to exercise your religious freedom,” Young said in debate.

Rep. Greg Ferch, R-Boise, falsely claimed in floor debate that “there appears to be some credible evidence that Pfizer executives were hiding the fact that there were aborted fetus cells were used in the production of the vaccine.” The Associated Press and other fact-checkers have rated this claim false.

Several legislators debated the bill passionately. Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, urged his fellow Republicans to make sure they were doing something good, not something that “sounds good on a bumper sticker.”

“It’s a difficult thing to accept, but not every personal or political opinion one forms rises to the level of a religious tenet,” Chaney said in debate. “Just because you are overwhelmed with religious zeal in support of a particular idea or opinion does not mean it’s a religious tenet, and by attempting to elevate those things to the level of religiosity, you don’t elevate them at all, you lower the sacredness of what it means to claim a religious exemption, what it means to have a sincerely held faith.”

The bill passed 46-24.

House Bill 415 creates exemptions for workplace vaccination requirements. Sponsoring Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, compared the bill’s workplace exemptions to exemptions for students from school vaccine mandates.

The bill adds medical, religious, philosophical or “natural immunity” exemptions.

“We should protect individual workers from having to choose between their strongly held beliefs and their ability to provide for themselves and for their families,” DeMordaunt said.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, voted against the bill after saying it would not allow the family of a high-risk or immunocompromised child to put any vaccine requirements in place for a caregiver.

The bill passed the House 43-24.

House Bill 417 specifies that any vaccine injuries arising from employer-mandated vaccinations shall be compensated under Idaho’s workers compensation laws.

This was by far the most popular bill the Idaho House has considered this week.

Sponsoring Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said the bill makes it clear if a worker has been injured by a vaccine that was mandated by an employer then the employee can file a worker’s compensation claim.

“That’s what this bill does, it makes it easier for them to be able to file those claims to be compensated,” Monks said on the House floor.

Most Democrats also voted for the bill.

“The reason I am comfortable with it is because we know vaccines are very safe and adverse events are extremely rare so I don’t think this is going to be a big change to our worker’s comp system,” Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said during debate.

The bill passed 67-3.

House Bill 419 creates what sponsoring Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, described as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for COVID-19 vaccination status to prevent employees from being terminated for not being vaccinated.

The bill passed the House 41-27.

House Bill 421 states that individuals do not need to provide proof of vaccine or a negative test to receive services by the state, enter a government venue or be hired by or continue employment with the state.

It passed 50-18.

House Bill 429 creates exemptions for students from any mask mandates, Plexiglass enclosures or medical interventions schools have in place.

Sponsoring Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said the bill is necessary because students have been sent home if they don’t mask up in schools with mask mandates in place. Nate and other supporters of the bill want those children to be able to participate fully.

Earlier this year, the Idaho Legislature passed a law that empowers local school boards to make their own local decisions about things like closures, masking and moving to remote learning.

During debate over HB 429, Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Idaho, falsely claimed there have not been any childhood deaths in Idaho attributed to COVID-19 in Idaho. Earlier this month, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials confirmed that an infant in Idaho died of COVID-19 in October. Health officials also said there have been nearly 900 COVID-19 related deaths reported among U.S. children since the start of the pandemic.

Two school teachers in the House, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, and Matthew Bundy, R-Mountain Home, voted against the bill. Bundy asked his legislative colleagues to vote against the bill and “trust our teachers and trust our school boards.”

The bill passed 42-28.

Will Idaho legislators be back in session Wednesday?

The session continues Wednesday, with the Idaho House scheduled to reconvene at 10:30 a.m. and the Idaho Senate due back at 10 a.m.

Wednesday could be the final day of the session, as legislators prepared to set aside three days this week for the legislative session. However, some legislators think the session could run longer because of the volume of legislation introduced.

All of the Legislature’s floor debates and committee hearings 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.