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Idaho Senate panel kills three COVID-19 vaccine bills

| November 19, 2021 7:00 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Legislature appeared ready on Wednesday to wrap up the extended 2021 session after a Senate committee killed three bills having to do with COVID-19 vaccine legislation.

The Senate State Affairs Committee held all three bills in committee.

One bill involved making it easier for Idaho residents to get worker compensation if they become ill after taking an employee-mandated vaccine. Another bill would have prohibited questioning the sincerity of people claiming religious exemptions from vaccinations. The third bill would have prevented employers from asking employees whether they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I think everybody is just trying to figure out a very complicated situation," said Republican Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder. "Trying to protect the rights of all the individuals, and it's not an easy thing to do."

Lawmakers opposed to the legislation said Idaho already has laws the three bills involved, and that even if passed, the remedy would remain in the courts, not the Legislature.

The lawmakers also noted Idaho is involved in three federal lawsuits against President Joe Biden's vaccine requirements, and legislation is premature until those cases are decided.

Winder said versions of the legislation could return when the Legislature meets for its regular session in January.

"We think some of these concepts are important, but the testimony we heard was they need some amendments," he said.

Republican Rep. Brent Crane, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, supported the three bills and testified in the Senate committee. After the meeting, he said he appreciated the Senate panel holding a public hearing on the bills with testimony that went over three hours.

"I also thought it was very productive," he said. "For the businesses sitting in here to realize the Legislature is serious about protecting First Amendment rights. Stop doing what you're doing and punishing people because of their religious beliefs. I think that message was sent loud and clear by the Senate State Affairs Committee today even though they didn't advance the legislation."

Lawmakers have said that workers are losing their jobs for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Legislature primarily reconvened on Monday to consider bills aimed at thwarting President Joe Biden's vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors and vaccine requirements for large employers and health care employers.

Some 36 pieces of legislation were brought forward Monday, but the only one to make it through both chambers was a non-binding declaration stating opposition to Biden's vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors and vaccine requirements for large employers and health care employers.

The House on Monday also censured Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from White Bird who publicized the name of a 19-year-old intern who reported she was raped by another legislator. Giddings was also stripped of a committee assignment.

The House never formally adjourned and came back at the request of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke. The Senate, though it did adjourn in May, also showed up.

Normally, only the governor can summon the part-time Legislature back to the Statehouse after adjourning. The Idaho attorney general's office said the Legislature reconvening is likely legal, but it's unprecedented and a court could decide otherwise, making any laws passed null. However, no laws have been passed.