The theory is that public officials are supposed to stand up, and work on behalf of, the whole public - everyone in their area: The people of the United States for a president, the people of Idaho for a governor of Idaho, and so on. We all should be considered equally important to the officials we elect.
Of course, things aren’t quite that simple. Smaller groups of people can petition to their government for laws they think beneficial for them, too. Such laws are passed on a regular basis, and often create no real controversy. But what about a proposed law that pits a small minority against the clear, significant, definable interests of a much larger majority?
Then, apparently, it depends on who that minority is. And you can tell a lot about a Congress, or a legislature, when you observe who it caters to.
This brings us to Idaho House Bill 140.
Proposed by Representative Priscilla Giddings of White Bird, it would add a new chapter to Idaho law called the "Medical Consumer Protection Act." This sounds good, except that protecting medical consumers is quite a reach from what it does; very much the opposite, in fact.
Its core language is simple, and says this: “The state of Idaho and any political subdivision in the state may not enter into a contract with an employer or company that engages in discrimination against un-vaccinated persons. No employer or company having entered into a contract with the state or any political subdivision in the state may engage in discrimination against unvaccinated persons. An employer or company that violates this section is in breach of its contract with the state or respective political subdivision in the state.”
In other words, any company doing business with the state or any local government would run into legal trouble if it tried to require that employees, even those dealing with people who are at risk for serious illness, be vaccinated. The Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions related to it clearly are the trigger for the bill, though they aren’t mentioned and the bill would apply much more broadly.
Giddings said the bill “just takes taxpayer money out of the equation, so taxpayer money isn’t being used to endorse 100 percent compliance (with vaccine mandates).” Combatting life-threatening pandemics evidently is, then, something governments shouldn’t be in the business of doing. It would also, as Representative Fred Wood of Burley (a physician, and a no vote on the bill) said, create a new class of protected people under civil rights law . . . and not a very good choice for one.
Putting that aside, there are practical issues.
Representative Lauren Necochea of Boise, cited one of many: “Imagine a cancer treatment center, where everyone who comes in for care is immuno-compromised. That’s a place where you want to make sure employees are vaccinated during a bad flu outbreak.”
Or imagine an assisted-living or nursing center - the kind of places where Covid-19 gained such purchase - or even prisons.
Giddings’ bill is a response to the anti-vaxxer groups who, not content with putting their own lives at risk, want a legal guarantee that they can endanger the lives of anyone else they choose.
It pits one small group determined to make a point against the well-being and lives of lots of other people.
The Idaho House has passed this bill, 49-21, and it goes now to the Senate.
You will be able to learn a lot about the Idaho Senate, and maybe the governor as well, and about who and what they consider important, from what happens next.