The Idaho House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would make it a crime for most employers to require coronavirus vaccinate or compel an employee to disclose their vaccination status.
The Idaho House voted 39-29 to pass Bill 581. If passed into law, it would become a crime for employers to refuse to hire or shoot someone for not having been vaccinated against coronavirus or any vaccine made available under an emergency use authorization. It would also become illegal to refuse to hire or fire an employee for refusing to disclose their vaccination status.
Each violation of the bill would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
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The bill includes exemptions that would make it inapplicable to health care providers or the federal government and federal agencies, over which the state has no authority.
Representative Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, sponsored the bill, which he called the Employee Health Information Protection Act. This is a rewritten version of House Bill 410 of the 2021 legislative session, which Shepherd pushed when lawmakers renewed in November. Shepherd’s Bill 2021 was sent for possible amendments and never moved forward.
“What I’m trying to do is ensure the individual rights of the citizens of this state so that they don’t have to give up those rights just to keep their jobs,” Shepherd said during the presentation of the new bill on Tuesday.
The coronavirus vaccine has been tested in clinical trials, and public health officials in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Idaho Department of Health and Wellness said the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in preventing infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine protects against hospitalization and serious illness.
Shepherd and other Republican lawmakers who supported the bill made several statements without providing facts or evidence to back them up.
“If businesses have to mandate vaccines because the government tells them to, businesses in my area will go bankrupt because employees will walk away. They will not be vaccinated with this untested and unproven vaccine,” Shepherd said.
“I don’t really want to get into the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the vaccine because that’s not that issue,” Shepherd added.
Bill opposed by Republicans and Democrats
Although the Idaho House passed the bill, it drew opposition from both major political parties.
“I can’t believe we’re here in this body, that we’re going to regulate private companies and tell private companies what they can do,” said Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.
Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, voted against the bill after telling lawmakers his daughter and son-in-law were immunocompromised.
“Now with this bill, if they want to hire someone to come to their house and they say “You know what, we would like you to get vaccinated”, whether you agree that it works or not , it’s their personal right to ask,” Syme said. “Now what you’re saying is you’re going to make my daughter a criminal and punish her with a $1,000 fine. You know, I too can’t believe we’ve gotten to this point where we’re going to do this to my daughter’s individual freedom to ask.
Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, voted against the bill after saying it added an additional regulatory burden on already overstretched businesses.
“For the same reasons that I have strongly and very strongly opposed what the federal government is trying to do to our businesses for vaccination mandates, I cannot in good conscience do the same from the seat that I have and the vote I have today on our business community in the state of Idaho. Idaho is a work-at-will state, and I don’t want to change that,” Lickley said.
Conservative lawmakers back bill to protect freedom
However, conservative lawmakers who backed the bill said it was about protecting the liberty and freedom of individuals, and that it’s important for the Idaho Legislature to get involved as a arbitrator.
“I stand again today in support of individual rights,” said Rep. Greg Ferch, R-Boise.
Ferch said he lived a lifestyle that made COVID-19 irrelevant to him. During a debate on a different bill later on Tuesday, Ferch joked that he would not be allowed to enter Australia because he is not vaccinated.
After about an hour-long debate, the Idaho House voted 39 to 29 to pass Bill 581.
To become law, House Bill 581 would still need to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without his signature.