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Idaho Senate passes 'Coronavirus Pause Act' to limit vaccine requirements

With some exceptions, the proposed bill prevents employers from discriminating based on COVID vaccine status.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Senate took up the Coronavirus Pause Act to debate COVID vaccine requirements. Senate Bill 1381 proposes a one-year ban on businesses from requiring the COVID vaccine as a condition for employment. There are exceptions for things like employees in a medical setting, but the bill threatens financial penalties for businesses that don’t comply.

“In all the time that I've served in this body, I don't think I've ever worked harder on a piece of legislation,” said bill sponsor, Senate Pro Tempore, Senator Chuck Winder.

Senator Winder says he crafted the legislation carefully, to give exceptions for things like specific businesses that could risk losing Medicare and Medicaid funding, existing federal law, and contracts that employers already have.

“I like to use the expression thread the needle on protecting the rights of the employee while trying to safeguard the rights of the employer,” Winder said.

Critics say the bill is government overreach and penalizes Idaho businesses already struggling.

“In short, the private sector businesses have been through enough in the past and have enough to worry about in the future, without this mandate. As I've already indicated, if confined to the government, I'm all in. I was opposed to President Biden's mandate and would support 1381 if kept government-specific,” said Senator Jim Guthrie, a Republican from McCammon.

Supporters of the legislation argue that the bill is necessary to protect Idahoans from discrimination.

“Requiring someone to receive a coronavirus vaccination is a very personal and a very permanent decision, and it's not something that someone should be discriminated against because they did or did not receive that vaccination. And this is also a relatively new medical development. It's not a decision because of that should be forced on someone to maintain their employment,” said Senator Todd Lakey, a Republican from Nampa.

Many Republicans agreed.

“I see this bill as an American bill to give everybody a fair chance and that it is anti-discrimination pure and simple. Thank you,” said Senator Kevin Cook, a Republican from Idaho Falls.

Critics of the bill like Boise Democrat, Senator Melissa Wintrow, raised questions about the bill and how the legislature handles discrimination issues.

“To criminalize business is a really horrific thing to do. And my heart is kind of heavy on this bill, as I have said before because we talk about the word 'discrimination' when it comes to a state as one with a vaccine to stop the spread of a disease. And we are still resisting adding words 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity' to our Human Rights Act, which is true discrimination,” Wintrow said.

After debate in the Senate, the bill passed 24-11 along mostly party lines. Senator Winder says he believes the bill balances the values of a business and the rights of an individual in Idaho.

“We try to recognize that there are legitimate business interests that need to be protected, but there are also legitimate personal interests that need to be protected,” said Senator Winder.

After passing the Idaho Senate, the legislation heads to the House.

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