BOISE — The Department of Health and Welfare’s rules have mostly been reapproved, although not without some controversy and a couple of attempts to remove some rules dealing with vaccinations and child protective services investigations.
The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 8-5 to renew one set of administrative rules and 10-3 to renew another. A proposal to ax a controversial meningitis booster requirement for 12th-graders that was added to the administrative code last year failed by a single vote. A proposal from Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, to get rid of a provision dealing with the procedure in child protective services investigations failed on an 8-5 vote.
Zollinger said he believes child protective services serve a necessary function but he thinks the rules need to be rewritten to make sure they are not violating people’s rights and following procedures such as getting search warrants before entering people’s homes.
“We have to have a serious discussion about these rules and have to make sure we’re not depriving people of their constitutional rights,” he said.
Out of the local lawmakers on the committee Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, supported Zollinger, while Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, voted against the proposal.
The committee declined, for now, to act on the vital statistics rule that regulates birth and death certificates. This rule covers letting transgender people change their birth certificates, which Idaho has allowed since 2018 due to a federal court ruling. The state Board of Health proposed a rule last year that would have required minors to get a doctor’s signoff as well as parental consent before changing their birth certificate, but scrapped it in November due to a procedural issue with the original vote.
Most of the written comment and public comment on hearings on the rule last fall came from people opposed to letting people change their birth certificates, and some Republican lawmakers have expressed opposition to it as well. Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said there are two bills in the works, one in the House and one in the Senate, related to the topic.
“My understanding is that there are two pieces of legislation that are working their way through the Legislature that will substitute for the rule,” Wood said. “If either one of those succeed, we’ll take up the rule at that time.”
Wood said the rule deadline is Feb. 28, meaning any bills setting new rules for birth certificates must be passed before then to get the rule in place this year. If that doesn’t happen, Wood said the committee would take up the existing rule.
“We’re not going to leave the state hanging without a vital statistics rule,” he said.
The rules that were approved Tuesday had already been in place, but this year all of the state’s administrative rules, not just the new ones as usual, are up for review since the Legislature allowed them to lapse at the end of the 2019 session. House Republicans had wanted to change the rules review procedure to require both chambers of the Legislature to approve a new rule, but they ran into opposition in the Senate.
The House Health and Welfare Committee room was full Tuesday, with some people listening in an overflow room next door since there weren’t enough seats. Several people from the group Health Freedom Idaho, a group that has been active over the past few sessions in pushing against vaccination requirements, testified, urging the committee to reject some rules related to vaccinations, child protective services investigations and medical testing for newborns. Jenny Peterson of Meridian urged the Republicans on the committee to “vote according to the tenets of your platform,” saying it supports parental authority over government and is against socialized medicine.
“All that has to do with our liberties and our health and freedoms,” she said.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee renewed the same rules, also minus the vital statistics rule, last week. Under the current procedure where only one chamber of the Legislature needs to approve a rule, the rules would have taken effect even if the House committee had rejected some of them. However, it remains to be seen whether this will change before the end of the session. House and Senate leadership have been trying to negotiate some sort of compromise that would give both chambers some input on the rules, although nothing has been announced yet.
“Who knows what’s going to be the law at the end of the session and how these rules will be treated?” Wood said.