By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
While the House Business Committee heard hours of testimony on vaccine and testing mandates, House Health and Welfare Committee chairman Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, spent Monday afternoon in his office, reading nine bills that House Speaker Scott Bedke had assigned to his committee.
“And I’ll not answer any further questions until I have an opportunity to review them,” he told Idaho Reports shortly after 1 pm. “I don’t know what’s in these bills,” he added, noting none of the sponsors had approached him for input.
Three hours later, he had finished reading the proposals. “I profoundly disagree with all nine of them,” Wood said, confirming what many lawmakers already suspected: He would not be holding a committee hearing on the bills, likely killing them for the session.
The bills covered a range of issues, including licensure, employer vaccination and testing mandates, and treatment of minors. Wood, the only physician currently in the Idaho Legislature, said many of the proposals were poorly written, and he had philosophical disagreements with others. For example, House Bill 431, sponsored by Rep. Randy Armstrong, has language that would “supersede any conflicting rules or orders issued by local officials” and suspend “all relevant statutes.” That language is way too broad, and way too vague, Wood said.
Wood also said all of these issues could wait until January. When asked about people who are currently losing their jobs because of those companies’ vaccine and testing requirements, Wood said that’s a discussion between the employer and the employee.
“If you don’t like that company and you dont like its policy, go work somewhere else,” Wood said. In response to those saying it’s their right to not get vaccinated, Wood said “I have the right not to be infected by somebody that has a communicable disease.”
Wood said he has had no pressure from legislative leadership to hear those bills. On Monday, Bedke assigned the nearly 20 other bills to the Business, Judiciary and Rules, State Affairs, Appropriations, and Ways & Means committees.
Usually, lawmakers visit with committee chairs before introducing a draft bill, Wood said. “Then you kind of know what’s coming. You’ve had a couple conversations, you know what they’re trying to do, you’ve read the language, you try to keep them out of trouble.”
Wood says that didn’t happen in the lead-up to this session. “Nobody came and talked to me about any of this,” he said.
In an e-mail to Idaho Reports, Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said she wasn’t surprised that Wood was blocking legislation.
“I am not surprised that this occurred,” Nichols wrote. “I am surprised that a chairman can be at the Capitol during session and not oversee his committee, and not want to allow the people to testify. I am also surprised that the vice-chairman seems to have been told that he cannot operate the committee as well. I am surprised that this is being allowed when there are important bills that should have been given a hearing and that had to be turned into the speaker by Nov. 10th to be considered to begin with. No reason was given by anyone regarding the ‘why’s’ that I am aware of. We always look for other ways to get things done, and January is certainly an option, but the need is now on many of these.”
Idaho Reports reached out to other sponsors of bills assigned to the House Health and Welfare Committee, and will update if any of those lawmakers respond.