Idaho bill to prevent vaccine discrimination advances
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho legislation preventing most private and public entities from discriminating against people who haven’t received the coronavirus vaccine headed to the full House on Thursday for consideration after it was approved by a key committee.
The House Business Committee voted 14-3 to approve the measure that prevents employers from requiring employees to get the vaccine or entities requiring visitors or attendees to be vaccinated. Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 penalty.
“This is the first piece of the puzzle, in my mind, of reclaiming these individual rights that have been pulled away,” said Republican Rep. Ben Adams, the bill’s sponsor. “This is a stake in the ground as we’ve been sliding down the hill.”
But Liza Leonard, the director of public affairs for Ball Ventures in Idaho Falls, a commercial real estate development company with investments nationwide and that also has private equity investments, said the legislation will negatively impact at-will employment in Idaho. At-will employment is when employees or employers can end the employment relationships at any time without any notice.
The state currently has about a 2% unemployment rate, which means unhappy employees can easily find new jobs if they don’t like requirements at their current jobs, she said.
“The Legislature should not be considering a bill that expands regulations on employers,” Leonard said. “To retain and attract businesses here in Idaho, we have to continue to be a business-friendly state.”
The measure has exemptions involving federal law, existing employee-employer contracts, and businesses that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Republican Rep. Charlie Shepherd voted for the measure, saying that legislators “have to be the referee in this argument between business and the individual.”
He added: “Once in a while we have to take a side. And if we’re going to err, we need to err on the side of the individual and not the bottom line of the business.”
Republican Rep. Rod Furniss of Rigby said there are sound financial reasons that businesses require vaccination — including protection for people from long, expensive hospital stays.
“Business owners have rights — they need the ability to run a business, they need the autonomy to run that business,” Furniss said. “Idaho has no business mandating employers on what to do.”
Opponents also said the measure allows discrimination against people who are vaccinated and doesn’t protect vulnerable people.
The measure, if it becomes law, will expire one year after the termination of all state emergency declarations related to coronavirus.
Republican Gov. Brad Little announced earlier this month that he will lift the state’s public health emergency disaster declaration on April 15, just over two years since it was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That means if the bill becomes law, it will expire on April 15, 2023.
Republican Reps. Brent Crane and Tammy Nichols said they preferred for the bill to be permanent instead of temporary.
The measure has already passed the Senate.