Idaho lawmakers in a first-ever move in state history reconvened the Legislature on Monday after more than five months off to put forward about three dozen bills dealing with COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements.
The House never formally adjourned and came back at the request of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke. The Senate, though it did adjourn in May, also showed up.
Normally, only the governor can summon lawmakers when they leave the Statehouse after adjourning. The Idaho attorney general’s office says the Legislature reconvening is likely legal, but it’s unprecedented and a court could decide otherwise, making any laws passed null.
Bedke, after getting the legislation sorted, sent to various committees and putting the House at recess late Monday morning, said the process would now play out.
“I think that we were very lenient in introducing everybody’s ideas, so now everyone of those bills is in the public domain, and everybody can pull those up and read them and study them and pick one they like, or come now with ideas as we go forward,” he said.
But the process got off to a shaky start when one bill favored by Bedke as well as Republican Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder was rejected by a budget committee. The bill would have created a fund containing $2 million, controlled by Bedke and Winder, and allowed them to spend the money to insert the Legislature into a lawsuit to fight President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements. The committee rejected the bill on a 12-6 vote.
But court documents show that Bedke and Winder last week filed a motion in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to intervene in a lawsuit involving a new Biden administration rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or frequent testing.
Idaho as a state is already a part of that lawsuit, and the rule has been put on hold by a federal court.
Idaho is also signed on to a different lawsuit contesting a Biden executive order requiring federal workers get the COVID-19 vaccine or be tested.
Lawmakers opposed to the bill creating the $2 million fund noted Idaho is already involved in those lawsuits.
Also, lawmakers said, the state has two other funds to tap into for such legal action that currently have $5 million combined.
“We don’t need to create a new fund,” Republican Rep. Ron Nate said.
There appears to be some overlap in some of the remaining bills, and nine got assigned to the House Health and Welfare Committee. But the committee is not scheduled to meet, meaning those bills won’t get a hearing and are potentially dead.
Of the remaining bills, some were being taken up by committees with public hearings on Monday, with more hearings expected Tuesday.
One bill getting a public hearing involved not allowing employers to require employees get vaccinated to remain employed.
Another bill in the works would add natural immunity exemptions to vaccine requirements, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a study has found that the vaccine provides better protection than natural immunity.