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Idaho House will reconvene Nov. 15, consider laws on COVID-19 vaccine mandates

·4 min read

The Idaho House will reconvene on Nov. 15 to consider legislation around COVID-19 vaccines and address an ethics matter involving a Republican lawmaker.

The Republican-dominated House recessed in May, rather than ending its session, with the plan to reconvene before the end of the year. Since it will remain a regular session, and not a special session, lawmakers won’t be limited in the kinds of bills they may introduce.

But House Speaker Scott Bedke said committee chairs agreed to limit bills to addressing COVID-19 vaccinations. The goal is for the session to last only a few days, said Bedke and Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett.

“That was discussed at length with the chairs this morning, and we’re all in agreement that we should expedite the process here,” Bedke told the Idaho Statesman.

Senate President Pro Tem Chuch Winder didn’t respond to a call Monday. When asked whether the Senate would return, he said via text message that he “will know more later tomorrow afternoon.” The Idaho Press reported that the Senate would also reconvene.

Senators did not just recess in May, though — they voted to end the legislative session.

Winder said the Senate supports the House in having to meet to deal with Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings’ ethics matter, but added that he’s still discussing other House bills with the Senate Republican Caucus.

House must vote on whether to censure Giddings

The House must vote on whether to censure Giddings, R-White Bird, over her actions when a legislative intern accused a former legislator of sexual assault.

After an ethics hearing over a complaint, a House panel in August unanimously recommended that Giddings be removed from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which oversees laws around state employees.

The ethics complaint, supported by 25 House members, alleged that Giddings defamed a 19-year-old who accused a former House Republican of sexual assault by sharing an article from a far-right website that identified her. It also said she misrepresented her actions to the ethics committee while under oath.

Ethics committee members also said Giddings exhibited a pattern of dishonesty and disrespect to her colleagues in her testimony, both in August at her hearing and during the ethics hearing involving former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who was accused of rape in a police report filed by the intern. Von Ehlinger has since been charged with rape and forcible penetration by a foreign object.

Under House Rule 45, the House must vote on an ethics recommendation “during the regular session of the Legislature” in which the ethics committee reports.

House to consider action over COVID-19 vaccine mandates

In a letter in September, Bedke said he wouldn’t reconvene without majority support from both the House and the Senate to ensure a bill could pass. Anything short of that “would be a waste of taxpayer money,” he wrote.

While Bedke and Gov. Brad Little have opposed limits to private businesses’ ability to mandate vaccines, Little, Bedke and Republican senators have all publicly condemned President Joe Biden’s sweeping plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for businesses that have 100 or more workers and for federal contractors.

The Idaho Legislature’s federalism committee last month met to discuss legal options around fighting those mandates, even though the federal government, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has not issued the exact rules yet.

Ultimately the Republican members recommended a draft bill by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, that would criminalize helping the federal government impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates among state employees. But in a legal analysis requested by Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said parts of the bill would conflict with federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The committee also heard other draft bills, which included adding vaccine exemptions to state code, banning limitations on services or employment over vaccination status, and preventing mandates on new employees.

Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she was concerned that Republican leaders would pursue bills that ultimately don’t stand legal muster.

”It’s hard to imagine that whatever they plan to do at this point couldn’t wait until January when we have a full normal session,” Rubel said.

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