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Idaho governor: suspension of vaccine mandate for private employers 'welcome news'

Gov. Brad Little is party to lawsuits challenging the OSHA rule that's now on hold, plus two other Biden Administration vaccine mandates.

BOISE, Idaho — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suspending enforcement of a rule mandating private companies with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be subject to testing, a decision Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday called "very welcome news."

The suspension of that controversial rule comes after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 12 granted a motion to stay what's formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard.

That rule was not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 4, 2022. Because of the stay from the Fifth Circuit, that's now on hold while lawsuits from dozens of states continue to go through the courts. If the rule is ever implemented, it potentially could affect 84 million American workers.

Challenges to the OSHA mandate are being consolidated into the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Cincinnati.

In a statement released by his office Wednesday, Gov. Little said: "The Biden administration is putting his OSHA vaccine mandate on hold, thanks to the states, including Idaho, which are taking a stand against this unprecedented government overreach into the private sector. Our work is not done, and we will continue to fight the Biden vaccine mandates, but this is very welcome news for many Idahoans."

Under Gov. Little's direction, Idaho is now party to three lawsuits challenging federal vaccine mandates. Along with the OSHA rule for private employers, multi-state lawsuits also seek to overturn vaccination mandates for federal contractors and for healthcare workers at facilities receiving Medicaid and Medicare funding.

"This is very much a hot button issue, particularly here in Idaho," said John Rumel, a law professor with the University of Idaho College of Law.

Rumel said it's not unusual for U.S. circuit courts to issue a stay on cases like this. He added that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court is notoriously made up of conservative judges, so again, there was no surprise that they held the challenge for review.

"Just looking at it I can see a number of reasons why they might have decided maybe this isn't a battle we want to take on in the courts," Rumel said. 

For the federal government to get an Emergency Temporary Standard to stick, Rumel said they would have to prove the public is in grave danger. According to Rumel, in the history of OSHA, less than 30 of these orders have been discussed and only one has ever been upheld. 

"So, just on those numbers alone, the odds were probably fairly long," Rumel said.

He added that he could see the challengers point out the fact the pandemic may be on a more positive path up as more tools curbing the illness continue to develop.

While there are both those who are for and against the mandate, a Gem State business lobbying group is over the back and forth between the state and federal governments affecting employers.

"We're getting a little bit tired of being a political football between what the states want to tell us what to do or what the federal government wants to tell us what to do and how to manage through the pandemic," said Alex LaBeau, the president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI).

IACI represents more than 300 employers across the state in all different types of fields. LaBeau said many Idaho businesses' main focus at the moment is doing their best to stay open and operational during the pandemic.

"I think that our position with this is, 'Hey, let us be ourselves. We'll run businesses the way that we see fit and we'll actually get through this pandemic,'" LaBeau said. "But right now, the push, pull and give and take among all these governmental entities is not helpful."

LaBeau said businesses are looking for guidance and consistency when it comes to the government enacting mandates, something he doesn't believe they've received. He said there are still many questions when it comes to the mandate, like how will the government help them enact this or is there funding businesses will receive? 

"How about this, how about everybody takes a time out and let businesses handle it at this point," LaBeau said.

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