BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on a committee that considers state sovereignty issues have bumped up their planned meeting next week to Wednesday to consider President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate. The meeting announced Monday is a potential avenue to reconvening the Legislature.
The joint Committee on Federalism plans to take only testimony on the mandate.
“We are deeply troubled by the recent announcement by the Biden administration,” Republican Rep. Sage Dixon, who co-chairs the committee, said in a statement. “We are in the middle of incredibly trying times, and additional federal pressure on state government is frustrating and unnecessary."
Many Idaho Republican lawmakers are angry with the vaccine mandate announced earlier this month, and some want the Idaho House and Senate to reconvene to outlaw such mandates.
But so far, lawmakers haven’t been able to coalesce around a specific piece of legislation that House and Senate leaders say is needed to call lawmakers back to Boise.
An attempt last week by far-right lawmakers in the House to force the Legislature to reconvene fizzled when just more than a dozen showed up, far less than the 36 needed for a quorum.
The sweeping new vaccine mandates affect 100 million Americans, requiring that employers with more than 100 workers require the workers to be vaccinated or be tested for the virus weekly.
Workers at health facilities who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will have to be fully vaccinated, affecting more than 17 million health care workers, the White House said. Employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government are also required to be vaccinated with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.
The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation.
However, that rule has not yet been announced.
Republican Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder said Monday that without the rule, there is nothing actionable for Idaho officials to file a potential lawsuit against that Winder, Republican Gov. Brad Little, Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warned the Biden administration about earlier this month.
As far as potential legislation outlawing vaccine mandates by the federal government, Winder said it could take the form of legislation passed earlier this year in reaction to Biden administration actions involving firearms. That new Idaho law “prohibits local officials from being ordered to enforce federal actions contrary to the Idaho Constitution.”
Large health care companies in Idaho have put in place vaccine mandates for their employees. But that's not a federal matter under the purview of the Federalism Committee, and most Idaho lawmakers appear unwilling to get involved in issues between employers and employees.
All of Idaho is currently under crisis standards of care because of mainly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients filling hospitals as a result of the state's low vaccination rate combined with the more contagious delta variant. The crisis standards allow healthcare workers to ration who gets care in order to save the most lives.
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, more than 240,000 Idaho residents have been sickened with COVID-19, and more than 2,600 have died.
Idaho has consistently had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with currently about 42% of all residents being vaccinated. About 770,000 of Idaho's 1.8 million residents are fully vaccinated, according to state officials, with another 90,000 having received the first dose of vaccines requiring two doses. Children 11 and younger are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Winder is fully vaccinated, “and I will take a booster when it’s available,” he said.
This story has been edited to remove a quote that misstated the nature of Biden's vaccine requirements.