Several of the 15 House GOP lawmakers who gathered in the House chamber today took turns speaking to the group, presenting their ideas for proposed new laws against vaccine mandates or on related issues. They ranged from Rep. Tammy Nichols’ proposal to revive her failed HB 63, a personal bill that sought to forbid all vaccine requirements, including during emergencies, and add to it misdemeanor penalties for violations; to Rep. Ron Nate’s proposal to define vaccine requirements as assault. “The penalties for assault are already in statute,” Nate said. His proposal would define “the use of force, fraud, deceit, duress or any force of constraint or coercion” to compel vaccination as assault under Idaho law.

Nate's proposal adds, "For purposes of this subsection, conditioning any person's right of assembly, domicile, travel, or work on the ingestion or injection of a drug, vaccine, or similar substance shall be deemed a force of duress or coercion."

Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, outlined a proposal to allow immunizations as a condition of hiring, but not allow them to be required after the employee’s already on the job, without advance notice at hiring. “My version is an attempt to be accommodating to businesses,” he said. “I tried to focus on one that addresses the immediate problem. These are people that are about to lose jobs.”

Other ideas tossed out included two versions from Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, of a proposal to amend Idaho labor laws to forbid either the COVID-19 vaccine or all immunizations, vaccines or medical procedures from being required as conditions of employment, and imposing misdemeanor penalties for violations. “My people are losing their jobs,” she told the other lawmakers. “I’ve just got all kinds of things happening up north where you wouldn’t expect it. I’ve got elderly people that are at home who are in pain and they won’t take them in the hospital.” She added that her proposal might need to be redrafted.

Scott said she first drafted her proposal to focus specifically on the COVID-19 vaccine because “I didn’t want the hospitals to go crazy, because they do require some shots for people that work in hospitals.” But then, she said, she rethought and decided to include everything. “It should all be a personal choice,” she said.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, presented a proposal expanding an existing section of Idaho labor laws about polygraph exams to apply to health care. “We just mimicked that language,” she said. Her proposal would forbid requiring an employee to "endure any health care services" as a condition for employment, continuation of employment, or contract for services, and also includes provisions about release of medical records and abortions or abortifacients. "Just simple and to the point," she said.  

Nichols also outlined a proposal to forbid anyone from having to reveal “personal medical information” such as vaccine status. “No one could ask you for that information, to attend an event or for any other reason,” she said. And she said she’s working on a version of Oregon’s existing law forbidding vaccine requirements for health care workers.

Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, has a draft bill, but was at a wedding today. “It has exemption language,” Galloway said. “It provides businesses, allows them to have a vaccine policy, but then it also provides that they have to have an exemption policy to let people opt out if they choose to do that.” Galloway said the last time she checked, 23 House members had signed on to support DeMordaunt’s proposal.

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, who was on the floor but sat in his regular seat, far away from the group, interjected that DeMordaunt told him recently she has 34 House members signed on to support her proposed bill. There were mutters from the other lawmakers of “those are good numbers.”

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said since House Speaker Scott Bedke has indicated he won’t reconvene the Legislature unless there’s a legislative proposal that’s drawn support from a majority of the House, which would take at least 36 members, and the Senate, which would take at least 18 there, those numbers were encouraging.

The group then wrapped up its gathering and agreed to meet again, in the same place, at 9 a.m. on Thursday to continue discussions. Most then headed down to the Lincoln Auditorium, where Dr. Ryan Cole is giving a talk about the delta variant of COVID-19.

The 15 lawmakers who participated in the informal discussion in the chamber included Reps. Nichols, Nate, Okunewicz, Scott, Giddings, Galloway, Moon, Barbieri, Christensen, Ferch, Wisniewski, Hanks, and Mendive, plus Dixon, who sat off to the side, and Gestrin, who listened in while standing a ways to the side, then sitting. One House member who participated in the earlier rally on the Statehouse steps, Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, wasn’t on the floor.

After the gathering ended, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he wanted to attempt a call of the House, a formal parliamentary maneuver, “if we had somewhere close to a quorum … but we didn’t have anywhere close to that.” The Idaho House has 70 members.

Moon said, “There were a lot of good ideas out there. I’m glad. They’re all coming from different angles.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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