Idaho Lawmakers Convene to Discuss 30-Plus Bills Set to Fight Vaccine, Mask Mandates

Idaho lawmakers reconvened after five months off Monday to discuss roughly three dozen bills aimed at fighting COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, the Associated Press reported. The reconvening was an unprecedented move, coming via a request from Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke when only the governor is usually permitted to bring lawmakers back to the Statehouse after adjourning.

The Idaho House never officially adjourned, but the Senate did in May. Though the Idaho attorney general's office said that the reconvening is probably legal despite its break from the usual protocol, a court may not agree, which would nullify any laws passed, the AP reported.

The lawmakers were able to sort the accumulation of proposed legislation and send the bills to different committees before the House went into recess late Monday morning.

"I think that we were very lenient in introducing everybody's ideas, so now every one of those bills is in the public domain, and everybody can pull those up and read them and study them and pick one they like, or come now with ideas as we go forward," Bedke said.

One of the bills discussed Monday would prevent employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of continued employment. Another seeks to include a vaccine mandate exemption for those with natural immunity to the virus through infection, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited a study showing that vaccines offer superior protection than natural immunity, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Idaho Lawmakers Discussing Legislation
Idaho lawmakers called themselves back into session to put forward about three dozen bills dealing with COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The Idaho House of Representatives meets, November 15, at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. Keith Ridler/AP Photo

The process got off to a shaky start when one bill favored by Bedke as well as Republican Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder was rejected by a budget committee. The bill would have created a fund containing $2 million, controlled by Bedke and Winder, and allowed them to spend the money to insert the Legislature into a lawsuit to fight President Joe Biden's vaccine requirements. The committee rejected the bill on a 12-6 vote.

But court documents show that Bedke and Winder last week filed a motion in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to intervene in a lawsuit involving a new Biden administration rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or frequent testing.

Idaho as a state is already a part of that lawsuit, and the rule has been put on hold by a federal court.

Idaho is also signed on to a different lawsuit contesting a Biden executive order requiring federal workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine or be tested.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill creating the $2 million fund noted Idaho is already involved in those lawsuits.

Also, lawmakers said, the state has two other funds to tap into for such legal action that currently have $5 million combined.

"We don't need to create a new fund," Republican Representative Ron Nate said.

There appears to be some overlap in some of the remaining bills, and nine got assigned to the House Health and Welfare Committee. But the committee's chairman was not at the Statehouse on Monday, meaning those bills won't get a hearing and are potentially dead.

Of the remaining bills, some were being taken up by committees with public hearings on Monday, with more hearings expected Tuesday.

Discarded Face Mask
Idaho lawmakers reconvened after five months off Monday to discuss roughly three dozen bills aimed at fighting COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates. A discarded face mask and cigarette butt litter the sidewalk outside the Eastern Market in Washington on June 18, 2020. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo