Lawmakers could return to Boise Wednesday — but they’re unlikely to accomplish much

Some lawmakers could reconvene in Boise Wednesday to protest President Biden’s recent plan to mandate workplace COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Statehouse session is unlikely to accomplish anything concrete. But it does illustrate Republican unrest over the Biden vaccination plan. Last week, Biden announced a new federal rule requiring vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 testing in workplaces that hire more than 100 employees.

Biden’s vaccine mandates have a limited effect on schools — applying only to federally funded Head Start programs and schools the federal government operates, according to the Associated Press. However, Biden is pushing governors, particularly in red states, to require teachers to get vaccinated. Idaho does not mandate teacher vaccines.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, is urging lawmakers to convene at the Statehouse Wednesday.

“The COVID-19 ‘vaccine’ has been weaponized to create division and mistrust among neighbors,” Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, wrote last week.

“Idaho House members are planning to return to Boise for session next week to address this issue,” Scott, one of the House’s hardline conservatives, said in a message to constituents Saturday. “This will be an attempt to attain a 35-member quorum of committed legislators to pass a bill to protect individuals from medical tyranny.”

But even if Scott convinces a majority of House members to show up Wednesday, that does not mean legislators can conduct business.

House rules give House Speaker Scott Bedke the authority to call lawmakers back into session. In May, the House passed a resolution to go into recess — giving Bedke the green light to reconvene the House sometime before Dec. 31.

In a letter to House members last week, Bedke said he too opposes vaccine mandates, but said he didn’t want lawmakers to return to town for an “open-ended” session.

“I cannot support going into session with an open-ended agenda regarding vaccines or any other topic that would unnecessarily subject people to government regulation,” House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said in a letter to colleagues last week.

“If there were a narrow piece of legislation that enjoyed the unequivocal support of at least 36 members of the House and the unequivocal support of at least 18 members of the Senate, I would coordinate with the (Senate) president pro tempore to bring the entire Legislature into session to address a mutually supported draft bill,” Bedke wrote. “Anything else would be an unacceptable waste of taxpayer money.”

The Senate adjourned for the year in May, and senators have no intention to reconvene before the 2022 session, which begins in January. In a statement Monday, Senate GOP leaders urged House hardliners to respect the constitutional process. “Anything less would be a detriment to our state and set a dangerous precedent for future legislatures,” they wrote.

Scott did not respond Tuesday to inquiries about Wednesday’s itinerary — and whether House members can meet of their own accord. (In June 2020, Scott and 14 other House Republicans held a self-described “special session” to discuss the state’s coronavirus response, but took no action.)

Regardless of what happens — or, most likely, doesn’t happen — at the Statehouse Wednesday, the Biden vaccine mandate push has struck a raw nerve with Idaho Republicans.

On Friday, Gov. Brad Little said the state will explore legal action against the Biden rule, calling it “unprecedented government overreach into the private sector.”

And on Tuesday, Bedke said the House’s standing Committee on Federalism will meet to discuss the issue. That meeting is scheduled for Sept. 28.

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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