People in the House gallery listen as state representatives vote to extend the 2021 legislative session with a recess. House members must now reconvene before the end of the year. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Idaho Legislature will return to session Monday with a long list of bills to consider around COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The House must reconvene before the end of the year because of its vote in May to recess, rather than end, its regular legislative session. Because they are reconvening, state representatives also must tend to an ethics recommendation to censure a North Idaho lawmaker.
RELATED | Bedke: Legislators prepping for action on vaccine mandate starting Monday
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Republican leaders felt motivated to return to session after President Joe Biden announced sweeping plans to require COVID-19 vaccines or mandatory testing of employees who refuse to be vaccinated. Gov. Brad Little has also joined two multistate lawsuits to stop those requirements, one for federal contractors and another for business with 100 or more employees.
Monday’s agenda lists 29 pieces of legislation that could be introduced — from a defense fund for private businesses that wish to fight federal mandates, to banning mask mandates, to exemptions for vaccine or mask requirements. Some deal with prohibiting vaccine mandates or protecting information about vaccination status from employers.
“For the most part, what has galvanized the House and, I believe, the entire Legislature is a response to the Biden administration’s announcement on vaccine mandates,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the Idaho Statesman editorial board Friday.
The Biden administration vaccine rules were not announced until September, well after the House refused to adjourn as it normally would.
Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President Alex LaBeau on Nov. 9 publicly released a scathing letter that criticized legislators over their decision to reconvene and consider prohibiting businesses from having vaccine mandates.
LaBeau said state elected officials “lost their way and abandoned” conservative principles by considering regulations on the private sector, “all for the purpose of scoring political points and appealing to a tiny philosophical fringe.”
IACI and its cronies continue to prioritize big corporations over the rights and liberties of Idahoans. IACI thinks it’s fine if you get fired for your personal medical choices. I disagree! Vaccine mandates have no place in a free society and no place in Idaho. #idpol
— Janice McGeachin (@JaniceMcGeachin) November 11, 2021
Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Idaho Statesman that Senate Republican leaders support creating a $2 million defense fund to fight federal vaccine mandates. The money would come from the state’s general fund, he said Friday.
Winder said the Senate decided: “OK, let’s make our statement. Let’s provide some funds to take some action against the mandates.” But ultimately, the fight will be in the U.S. Supreme Court, he added.
“What our position has been all along is that the real remedy is in the courts, and that the federal courts are the ones that are going to decide this,” Winder said. “Again it comes down to, yeah, the state can pass a variety of things that probably don’t make a lot of difference in the long run because of the sovereignty of the federal government.”
WHAT THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION WILL LOOK LIKE
The House Ways and Means Committee will discuss draft bills starting at 7:30 a.m. Monday. The committee then will consider what draft legislation to introduce. All but one of the bills are sponsored by Republicans.
Bedke said he wants the committee to filter out pieces of legislation that can wait until Jan. 10, when the Idaho Legislature would reconvene for its 2022 session.
“While the committee chairmen set their own agenda, I’m urging everyone to be aware of the taxpayer here,” Bedke said, “and that we need to do this in an efficient, expedited way — expedited, however, not to the point of short-circuiting the committee process.”
By 9 a.m. Monday, House members expect to be on the floor. That’s when House members must vote on whether to accept the ethics committee’s report on Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird. The committee unanimously recommended to censure her by removing her from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which oversees laws around state employees.
RELATED | Ethics committee recommends punishment for Rep. Priscilla Giddings
This stems from hearings in August that centered around actions that Giddings took earlier this year. Giddings shared a post from a far-right outlet that identified the 19-year-old woman, known as Jane Doe, who accused former Republican Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of sexual assault.
Ethics committee members said Giddings exhibited a pattern of dishonesty and disrespect to her colleagues, both in her August hearing and during the ethics hearing involving von Ehlinger, who resigned and has since been charged with rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object, both felonies.
Under House Rule 45, the members must vote on an ethics recommendation “during the regular session of the Legislature” in which the ethics committee reports.
Bedke said he told House members to expect long days Monday and Tuesday. The goal is for the session to last only a few days, he said.
In a press briefing Friday, Senate Democrats criticized Republicans’ decision to reconvene and questioned whether senators needed to return, since they voted to adjourn the legislative session in May.
Senate Majority Leader Michelle Stennett accused Republican lawmakers of political grandstanding and said the session seems like a “colossal waste of taxpayer money” and time.
“Hopefully whatever we entertain will be thoughtful,” Stennett said. “And the rest of it, we just need to say ‘no’ and go home.”
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