Some Idaho lawmakers are hoping to call themselves back into session this week to take action against President Joe Biden’s recent vaccine mandate.
The group plans to hold a rally Wednesday on the Statehouse steps in Boise.
After that, if enough House members are in attendance to provide a quorum, they hope to call themselves back into regular session. The goal would be to pass legislation that bans any private businesses from requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The move comes less than a week after Biden issued an executive order requiring that workers at private-sector firms with more than 100 employees be vaccinated or get tested weekly.
Saying his patience “is wearing thin,” the president also mandated vaccines for federal contractors, as well as most federal employees and for health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, sent out an email Saturday suggesting the Legislature could block Biden’s order simply by modifying state law.
“Taking any medical product should be your personal decision alone,” she wrote. “No government, private business or employer should be allowed to coerce or mandate their will on an individual.”
Wednesday’s meeting, Scott said, “will be an attempt to attain a 35-member quorum of committed legislators to pass a bill to protect individuals from medical tyranny.”
Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, said he plans to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think it’s important we try to do something,” he said. “I’ve been getting calls and calls from people who are quitting or losing their jobs because of the mandates.”
A small group of House conservatives took similar steps last year, attempting to convene a special session to protest Gov. Brad Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Only about 15 lawmakers showed up — including Kingsley and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird — and no formal action was taken.
“I think more will attend this time,” Kingsley said Monday. “From what I’m hearing, my constituents want me to do something, so I’m going to try.”
Calling themselves back into session runs contrary to legislation the House passed in May, when it recessed for the year.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said that measure, House Resolution 4, clearly states that the House is in recess “subject to the call of the speaker of the House.”
“So no one else, including a subgroup of legislators, has the authority to call the House back in,” he said. “That’s why we have rules, so things like this don’t happen. It only creates chaos.”
Getting together for a gripe session in Boise might make lawmakers feel better, “but it’s not going to change any code,” Bedke said. “It isn’t going to help, unless we just want to let people posture. I’m more about getting results.”
After discussing Biden’s executive order with his counterparts in other states, Bedke believes there will be an effort to block the mandates through legal action.
“I believe these mandates are unconstitutional and constitute federal overreach,” he said. “We (Idaho) should be ready to join other states and push back on the mandates through the courts.”
Bedke has previously indicated that, if lawmakers have a specific legislative proposal that enjoys broad support in both the House and Senate, he would be willing to call the House back into session. But he wants the legwork done ahead of time, saying “anything less would be an unacceptable waste of taxpayer money.”
Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, said she hasn’t decided whether to attend Wednesday’s session. She’s still gathering information about whether the meeting would even be legal.
“I’ve put in a call to the Attorney General’s Office,” she said. “I am concerned (about the vaccine mandates), but we have to do things in proper fashion. We have to follow the rule of law and follow the procedures we’ve put in place.”
McCann was appointed to office this summer following the resignation of Aaron von Ehlinger.
“Being new to office, I’m trying to juggle what’s right,” she said. “Based on the resolution that was passed — and which a lot of the people calling for this meeting voted for — reconvening the House is subject to the call of the speaker. Until I hear otherwise, (attempting to sidestep that process) might not be prudent.”