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Far-right bid to reconvene Legislature called grandstanding

September 14, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A proposed meeting Wednesday by far-right Idaho House members to form a quorum at the Statehouse and force the Legislature to reconvene to prohibit vaccine mandates is grandstanding and illegitimate and has no chance of succeeding, key lawmakers said.

Far-right lawmakers have said they will hold the meeting anyway to try to get enough members to show up so they can force the Legislature to reconvene. Many Idaho Republican lawmakers are angry with the vaccine mandate that President Joe Biden announced last week.

Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, one of the House’s more conservative lawmakers, said she would support a state law banning vaccine mandates but will not attend Wednesday’s gathering after she had a recent discussion with other lawmakers, whom she declined to name.

“They made it very clear it’s about grandstanding instead of getting something done,” she said on Monday while attending a protest of Biden’s visit to the National Interagency Fire Center. “And I want to get something done.”

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She also said far-right lawmakers would need support from more moderate Republicans, which collapsed during the discussion.

“A couple of my colleagues blew that up the other night, and the moderates all fled,” she said, adding that the conservatives “messed it up.”

Biden, who visited to discuss wildfire issues with Republican Gov. Brad Little, last Thursday announced sweeping new vaccine mandates affecting 100 million Americans.

The vaccine requirement states that employers with more than 100 workers must require them to be vaccinated or test them for the virus weekly.

Workers at health facilities who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be fully vaccinated, as well as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government.

Little can call a special session to bring lawmakers to the Statehouse. Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder also said they can reconvene the Legislature because the House never formally adjourned earlier this year.

While none are currently inclined to bring lawmakers back to Boise, the three in a joint statement Tuesday afternoon said they are working with the attorney general’s office and governor’s legal counsel to take “legal action to stop President Biden’s unprecedented government overreach into the private sector with his new COVID-19 plan.”

Bedke said Monday he wouldn’t reconvene the House unless there’s wide support for specific legislation.

“No, not at this time,” he said in a text message asking him whether he would call lawmakers back to the Statehouse.

The Idaho Senate Majority Caucus, comprised of the chamber’s Republican leaders, in a statement on Monday said the attempt by some House members to force the House to reconvene is not allowed under a House resolution “and is therefore unofficial and illegitimate.”

Specifically, the House passed a resolution earlier this year to end the Legislature’s regular session by recessing instead of officially adjourning. According to the resolution, only Bedke can reconvene the House.

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On Tuesday after Biden’s visit to Idaho, Bedke said he needed to take action. He instructed members of the Committee on Federalism to find a way to defend Idaho “against this administration’s unrelenting acts of federal overreach” at the committee’s Sept. 28 meeting. The committee typically takes up issues involving state sovereignty.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott in her legislative newsletter on Saturday, said Wednesday’s meeting “will be an attempt to attain a 35-member quorum of committed legislators to pass a bill to protect individuals from medical tyranny.”

Republican Rep. Mike Kingsley said Monday, while attending the Biden protest near the fire center, that he would attend the gathering. He wasn’t sure how many other lawmakers would be there.

“I’m getting calls and calls and emails from people who are losing their jobs due to the mandates,” he said, undeterred by potential obstacles to reconvening the House. “We don’t know until we see.”

Calling back the Legislature would cost thousands of dollars a day. It would also occur as Idaho hospitals face a surge of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

Lawmakers had to recess during the regular legislative session earlier this year after a COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers, mainly Republicans who tend not to wear masks.

COVID-19 cases are spiking in the state due to the delta variant and poor vaccination rates, overwhelming the state’s healthcare system.