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House committee OKs ban on businesses requiring vaccinations

February 15, 2022 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel of Idaho lawmakers has advanced a bill that would make it a crime for Idaho businesses to require employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The federal government and companies employing health care workers would be exempt under the bill from Rep. Charlie Shepherd. But all other businesses would be barred from firing, segregating or otherwise treating unvaccinated workers differently than vaccinated employees.

The House Business Committee sent the bill to the full House with a “do pass” recommendation on a party-line vote Tuesday afternoon.

Shepherd, a Republican from Pollock, said the bill protects “individual liberty,” and that businesses could simply close their doors if the owners feel it is too dangerous to work with unvaccinated employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

“All it says is at no time in the future are we going to allow a business to push their will on an individual worker,” Shepherd said.

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The legislation would make it illegal for employers to “limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants for employment in any way” that would hurt the employee’s status based on whether they are vaccinated against the coronavirus. If enacted, the law would remain in effect even if the coronavirus mutates into a more dangerous strain in the future.

Breaking the rules would be punishable by a misdemeanor, with a fine not to exceed $1,000.

The legislation garnered praise from Republican Reps. Brent Crane and Ben Adams, both from Nampa, though they said the bill did not go as far as they would have hoped.

“You’re headed in the right direction,” Crane told Shepherd. “It’s a good start.”

Rep. Steve Berch, a Democrat from Boise, asked Shepherd what would happen if a more deadly mutation of coronavirus occurs in the future: “You would rather see a business shut its doors and put people out of work then to have them be protected by a vaccine and be able to continue working — am I understanding you correctly?”

Yes, Shepherd said.

“I would rather have that happen and give time for someone like myself to come back up here and rewrite the law that protects the individual to the best of their ability rather than trample on our constitutional rights,” Shepherd told the committee.

Democratic Rep. Brooke Green from Boise voted against the bill, saying the committee should work to empower businesses to make the choices they think are best, not put obstacles in their way.

“Quite frankly, I’m on the side of the business that wants to get their job done, who wants to look out for their best interest,” Green said. “This does the complete opposite. We owe it to businesses to give them the tools to do their jobs.

Berch, who also voted against the bill, said it isn’t good public policy, especially since the virus that causes COVID-19 could easily mutate again, creating an even greater public health risk.

“Individual freedom without responsibility or accountability is anarchy,” Berch said. “We’re making a decision based on a reality, a current situation, which may not reflect a much more dire future reality.”