SBOE screenshot

Idaho's State Board of Education meets on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

Some college and university employees could need to get COVID-19 vaccines in the next few weeks, while the state goes to federal court to challenge a Biden administration vaccine mandate, writes reporter Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News.

The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to comply with the far-reaching executive order, but also sign onto a lawsuit against it. The unanimous board vote came at the end of a 10-minute meeting.

Board president Kurt Liebich said Idaho higher education institutions have approached the pandemic “with one goal in mind, and that was to provide in person-instruction safely. I think our institutions have done just a phenomenal job at putting in different mitigation measures at different stages of the pandemic.”

“I think we’re through the worst of it, at least from the Delta standpoint,” he said, “and we continue to provide education safely to all of our students, so I really commend our institutions for all the work they’ve have done. While many institutions, both private and public, across the country have mandated vaccines ... we in Idaho have not done that. We’ve used other mitigation efforts to keep the virus at bay. This issue is really being put on us by the federal government.”

Discussing the motion, the board's staff advised that the executive order doesn't apply to students, unless they are student employees, but it applies to employees of higher education institution that have research contracts with the federal government. Idaho's universities have identified $89 million in federal research contracts that Liebich said could be "at risk."

You can read Richert's full story here at idahednews.org. Here's a full report from the Associated Press:

By Keith Ridler

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a decision joining a federal lawsuit to block contractor requirements in President Joe Biden’s executive orders that include COVID-19 vaccine mandates, but colleges and universities will meanwhile abide by the order.

The board voted unanimously to ratify the decision to join the lawsuit filed Friday. In the same vote, the board gave colleges and universities the OK to begin actions necessary to comply with Biden’s order.

The board on Tuesday cited unknowns in how long the lawsuit could go on, potentially jeopardizing nearly $90 million in federal research contracts and agreements that typically involve subcontractors on research efforts. Federal research grants aren’t affected. Those grants can help students go to school and faculty conduct research.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Georgia requests an injunction blocking Biden’s order while the case plays out. It’s not clear when a ruling on an injunction might be made.

Given that uncertainty, Board President Kurt Liebich said, “we would be wise to begin the process of complying with that” executive order.

It’s not clear how many workers in Idaho would be affected by the order. Students wouldn't be affected unless they're also employees.

The lawsuit also includes the state of Idaho, Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and other entities within those states. The Idaho State Board of Education appears as a plaintiff in its capacity as regents of the University of Idaho, and board of trustees of Boise State University, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

The states in the lawsuit are asking a federal judge to block Biden’s requirement that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8, arguing that the mandate violates federal procurement law and is an overreach of federal power.

Biden’s executive order is “astonishing — not only for its tremendous breadth and unworkably short deadline, but also because so little care has been given to how it will work in the real world,” the lawsuit said.

The sweeping vaccine mandates put forward by Biden in August affect 100 million Americans, requiring that employers with more than 100 workers require workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.

Workers at health facilities who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will have to be fully vaccinated, affecting more than 17 million health care workers, the White House said.

Employees of the executive branch and contractors that do business with the federal government are also required to be vaccinated with no option to test out, though exemptions would be allowed for disability or religious belief. That covers several million more workers.

The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation.

Idaho lawmakers plan to convene Nov. 15 at the Statehouse to pass laws also aimed at thwarting Biden’s COVID-19 mandates.

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.