Idaho lieutenant governor keeps focus on vaccine mandates

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Bans Masks While Governor Away
Darin Oswald

FILE - In this May 19, 2021, file photo, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announces her candidacy to become governor of Idaho at a rally on the Statehouse steps in Boise, Idaho. Lt. Gov. McGeachin on Thursday, May 27, 2021, issued an executive order banning mask mandates statewide among state political entities and schools. McGeachin is acting governor while Republican Gov. Brad Little is out of state at the Republican Governors Association conference.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, acting governor with Gov. Brad Little out of the state, on Tuesday sent what she called a formal inquiry to the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare concerning private health care businesses requiring their employees get COVID-19 vaccines.

McGeachin, who is running for governor, said the Biden administration could be behind the requirement, citing a lengthy proposed rule in the federal register published in May having to do with Medicare that has several references to vaccine coverage among health care workers.

As acting governor in May, McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates that Little nullified when he returned. Little is in Colorado meeting with other Republican governors and is scheduled to return Wednesday, spokeswoman Marissa Morrison said.

McGeachin has said she wants to find out why three large Idaho health care providers are requiring their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Their policies seem to be written in conjunction,” McGeachin said.

She wants Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen to explain “what incentives may exist for Idaho healthcare providers to impose vaccine mandates on their employees.”

Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman at Health and Welfare, said Jeppesen had not had time to review McGeachin’s request but would work with her to get the information she wanted as he would with any elected official.

Primary Health Group, Saint Alphonsus Health System and St. Luke’s Health System announced the vaccine requirement earlier this month ahead of the busy cold and flu season and as coronavirus variants spread in parts of the U.S., including Idaho.

They have said the vaccine requirements are intended to keep health care facilities open and employees and patients safe.

McGeachin in her news release said she wants the health care providers to suspend their vaccine requirements for workers and go into talks with stakeholders, lawmakers and employees. She also appeared to reference the potential of her issuing another executive order as acting governor.

“While some have encouraged me to take more direct action today, I am providing time for the healthcare providers to reconsider their mandates and accept my invitation,” she said. “I encourage them to use this time wisely.”

McGeachin has also called for lawmakers to return to Boise to create possible laws concerning vaccine mandates. But Senate leaders said last week they would prefer meetings with Little, House leaders and businesses. House Speaker Scott Bedke has also been noncommittal about calling lawmakers back to intervene in private businesses.

Little has said that he needs to know more about the mandatory vaccine issue, but his default position is that it’s usually best for employees and employers to work out disagreements.

In April, he issued an executive order banning the state from requiring or issuing “vaccine passports” for travel or to get into venues. He also is preventing state agencies from providing information on someone’s vaccine status to other people, companies or government entities.