Workplace vaccination issue breaks along some familiar political lines

The push for a legislative session to address workplace vaccination requirements cuts across some familiar political fault lines.

The issue pits legislative hardliners against mainstream Republicans, the House against the Senate and, inevitably, Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

When McGeachin held a news conference Thursday to condemn Treasure Valley hospitals for announcing mandatory vaccination policies — and renewing her push for legislative action — she said she had support from 19 of the 105 members of the Legislature.

She actually lowballed the number.

On Thursday, her office released statements of support signed by 22 Republicans:

  • Senators Regina Bayer of Meridian; Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens and Christy Zito of Hammett.
  • Representatives Jim Addis of Coeur d’Alene; Paul Amador of Coeur d’Alene; Randy Armstrong of Inkom; Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens; Judy Boyle of Midvale; Chad Christensen of Iona; Greg Ferch of Boise; Priscilla Giddings of White Bird; Karey Hanks of St. Anthony; Mike Kingsley of Lewiston; Ron Mendive of Coeur d’Alene; Dorothy Moon of Stanley; Ron Nate of Rexburg; Tammy Nichols of Middleton; Doug Okuniewicz of Hayden; Heather Scott of Blanchard; Tony Wisniewski of Post Falls; Julie Yamamoto of Caldwell; and Julianne Young of Blackfoot.

This list includes many of the Legislature’s diehard conservatives. Significantly, however, none of these lawmakers are in Statehouse leadership, and 19 of the 22 are from the more conservative House of Representatives.

Like so many heated issues, this one illustrates the ideological divide between the House and the Senate.

Nichols worked that point during McGeachin’s presser.

She listed several proposals that passed the House and never got a Senate hearing: Giddings’ House Bill 140, which would ban state agencies and state contractors from discriminating against unvaccinated people; Hanks’ House Bill 339 banning mask mandates; and her own House Concurrent Resolution 14, a legislative statement opposing forced immunizations.

Since the House only went on recess and didn’t adjourn, the Senate could call itself back into session and take up these bills, Nichols said Thursday. “We could help all of our fellow Idahoans at this moment.”

But the Senate has no immediate plans to return to the Statehouse.

“We call on business leaders, the governor’s office, and our colleagues in House leadership to join the Senate in a series of meetings to find solutions that will protect the employees, patients and the viability of our health care systems in Idaho,” Senate GOP leadership said Friday. “Business thrives when government involvement is limited, and it is our hope that this issue can be resolved before more regulation, as the result of legislation, needs to be considered.”

Meanwhile, Thursday’s events represented another confrontation between Little and McGeachin — even though the two Republicans were 300 miles and a time zone apart.

Fielded questions from reporters in the Statehouse, flanked by supporters, McGeachin’s challenge to lawmakers and Little couldn’t be more clear. “We must not run from difficult issues.”

In Troy for a “Capital for a Day” event, Little still staked out his position.

“I need to know more about it, (but) my default position is that it’s usually best if that’s worked out between the employees and employer,” said Little, according to Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune.

More reading: School districts and charter schools could mandate staff vaccinations. Would they do it?

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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