Legislative roundup, 4.8.21: Vaccine exemption bill heads to Senate floor; McGeachin plans indoctrination task force

A bill designed to inform parents about vaccine exemption policy is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 298, which passed the House last month. The bill would require schools to describe state exemption policy in any vaccination communications to parents and guardians.

Cosponsor Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the bill is meant to recognize “the exemptions that we already have in place and directs any communication that comes from school boards or schools, any form regarding immunizations to include those exemptions or reference to that exemption.”

In Idaho law, parents can opt children out of vaccinations if a physician says a required vaccination would endanger the life or health of the child. However, parents can simply sign and submit a note stating a religious or philosophical objection.

Consequently, Idaho has one of the nation’s highest vaccine opt-out rates.

“One of the concerns and one of the reasons for this piece of legislation this year is a concern about whether or not school children would be required to receive the COVID vaccine,” said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, a cosponsor.

Den Hartog acknowledged coronavirus shots aren’t yet available to “school-aged children” but said “that day may come.” 

The U.S. government has approved three COVID vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, approved for people 16 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, OK’d for patients 18 or older.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order Wednesday, prohibiting public agencies from requiring “vaccine passports.” 

During Thursday’s hearing, bill proponents told stories of vaccine-injured children and called for “full transparency,” while a critic worried the bill would decrease vaccination rates in schools. 

“As a nurse practitioner I fully support parents having the right to make informed decisions about the child’s health care,” said Bradley Bigford. “However, this bill could further decrease immunization rates among school-aged children, causing outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles, pertussis and pneumonia.”

Steven Kaiser said he’s “very sympathetic to the importance of vaccines” but told a story of his grandchild who was “vaccine injured.” 

Kaiser urged the committee to send the bill to the Senate floor, which it did, on a 7-2 vote. 

McGeachin planning school indoctrination task force

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin said Thursday that she will assemble a task force to examine indoctrination in Idaho schools — including critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism.

“We must find where these insidious theories and philosophies are lurking and excise them from our education system,” McGeachin said in a news release. “Idahoans are increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of awareness and leadership coming from the state on these issues.”

A conservative lawmaker hailed the task force announcement.

“I appreciate the lieutenant governor taking the initiative to push back against the flawed concept that white people are inherently racist and that our young people should be made to feel guilty for actions they have never committed and biases they have never displayed,” said Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird.

The news comes a day after Giddings and Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, tried to insert $4,000 into McGeachin’s budget to form an indocrination task force. The motion failed in the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, on a 2-17 vote.

Charter commission inches toward more independence

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to give the Idaho Public Charter School Commission greater autonomy from the State Board of Education. 

Senate Bill 1115 would move the commission out from under the State Board’s office, though the commission would remain an offshoot of the State Board.

“This will streamline how the charter commission goes about its business,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

The bill passed the Senate March 1 with no debate.

The proposal would also give the commission the power to hire its director. State Board staff do that now. 

The charter commission’s members would also be picked differently. All seven would be chosen by the governor, rather than through a mix of appointments from the governor, state speaker of the house and state senate pro tempore, as they are now.

Senate passes charter commission budget

In other charter commission news, the Senate passed a $1.2 million budget for the commission.

This represents another step toward making the commission a standalone entity. In the past, the commission received funding through the State Board.

After Thursday’s 34-0 vote, the budget heads to the House.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report. Idaho Education News covered these legislative hearings remotely.

 

About Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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