Outside of normal session, legislators introduce 36 potential bills

The Idaho House of Representatives met on Nov. 15, 2021, to address an ethics recommendation and COVID-19 vaccine issues. (Photo by Morgan McCollum)

By Ruth Brown and Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

On day 309 of the record-breaking 2021 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers reconvened to introduce an avalanche of bills related to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

On Monday morning, the House Ways and Means Committee introduced 29 bills, while the Senate State Affairs Committee introduced seven

Legislative leadership previously said the Legislature was coming back to address President Joe Biden’s recent executive orders that would force some private employees to either get the vaccine or be tested regularly. 

Some of the introduced bills do not focus just on the president’s executive orders, instead making broad changes to Idaho code regarding vaccinations and medical treatments.

Those include proposals that would make it unlawful for an employer to hire or discharge an employee or “discriminate” based on vaccination status or refusal to get vaccinated, such as the one proposed by Rep. Charlie Shepard, R-Pollock.

A bill from Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, would make it a misdemeanor crime to force a person to get a vaccine without their express consent, even during a state of emergency.

Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, characterized his bill as a civil rights bill. It would prevent employers from documenting an employee’s immunity status and vaccination status.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle’s bill would add to the Idaho Human Rights Act, which is the state version of a civil rights act that prevents discrimination. The proposal from Moyle, R-Star, would add to the act, guaranteeing the right to refuse medical treatment due to one’s religious beliefs. 

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, pitched a bill he called a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which would prohibit any person, entity or business entity from asking if a person is vaccinated for COVID-19.

Many of the new bills accomplish the same goals through different statutory language, while some of them conflict. For example, several bills would completely prohibit employers from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment, whereas a bill from Rep. Jason Monks would qualify injuries from employer-mandated vaccines under the existing state workers compensation program.

Some of the proposals have already met the end of the road. Nine of the bills were sent to the House Health and Welfare Committee, whose chairman will not give them a hearing. Speaker Scott Bedke assigned two education bills to the House Ways and Means Committee, signaling they, too, would not get a hearing. Early Monday afternoon, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted down a House bill that would put $2 million toward a legal fund to challenge those mandates, and said it would not hold a hearing on a similar Senate bill.

Here is the schedule for the remaining pieces of legislation. You can watch hearings online through Idaho In Session. All times are MDT. 

-House Business continues at 6pm 

-Senate State Affairs at 8am 

-House reconvenes at 8am 

-House Judiciary at 8:30am  

-House State Affairs at 9:30am 

-Senate reconvenes at 10am

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