TROY — Idaho Gov. Brad Little cautioned lawmakers Thursday against intruding on private business decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, saying such matters are best addressed at the local level.
His comments came during his “Capital for a Day” session in Troy, when he was asked about a recent announcement that three of the state’s largest health care providers will require employees to get vaccinated.
“I need to know more about it, (but) my default position is that it’s usually best if that’s worked out between the employees and employer,” Little said.
Since the health care providers made their announcement, the governor said he’s heard of “a significant number” of other businesses that issued similar mandates, after discussing the matter with employees.
“It wasn’t a dictatorial decision by the highest part of the corporate ladder. It was a partnership,” he said.
Shortly before Little made his comments, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin held a news conference in Boise, reiterating her stance that lawmakers should come back into session to pass legislation prohibiting such mandates.
“This idea of discriminating against and firing employees based on private and personal health decisions flies in the face of the principles of liberty and justice,” said McGeachin, who plans to challenge Little for next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
Little noted that if the Legislature does come back into session, nothing prevents them from introducing bills on a multitude of topics.
“If I call them back (into special session), I can put boundaries around what they consider,” he said. “If they call themselves back, it’s ‘Katy, bar the door.’”
Little was joined at the “Capital for a Day” event by State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth, State Controller Brandon Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.
Nearly two dozen state lawmakers, agency directors, congressional representatives and regional support staff were also in attendance, along with about 80 community members.
Following introductions, the audience quizzed Little about everything from COVID-19 vaccines to fire conditions, education spending to salmon health.
He said he sees “zero barriers” to in-person classes in public schools this fall. There’s also virtually no chance that a resurgence in COVID-19 cases will lead to another shutdown this fall.
“Given every scenario I’m aware of, there’s no possibility of that,” Little said.
Nez Perce County Commissioner Doug Zenner thanked the governor for his recent decision to mobilize the Idaho National Guard to help fight wildfires. However, he also pleaded for state officials to work with the county on finding a more permanent solution to the fire threat.
“We have almost 102,000 acres on fire in my county,” he said. “This is the fourth major fire since 2001. I’m ready to sit down with you today to talk about what to do in the future to get grazing back on that 102,000 acres. We need to come to a solution.”
Little said reducing the fire risk will take a multi-pronged approach, including shared stewardship projects, prescribed burns, grazing and logging.
Given the current extreme conditions, though, there’s only so much the state can do.
“We’re going to have a lot more of this,” he said.
One woman questioned the governor’s claim that education was his top priority, noting that only a fraction of this year’s record budget surplus is being directed toward reading programs or career-technical education.
Little said it’s unclear at this point how much of the surplus is one-time money, versus ongoing revenue.
It would be a “fool’s errand” to use one-time money for ongoing expenditures, such as higher teacher salaries, he said. However, he also noted that the fiscal 2022 public schools budget jumped more than 30 percent, in part because of the infusion of nearly a half-billion dollars in federal stimulus funding.
Even excluding that, the total schools budget will increase more than 13 percent.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also took the opportunity to complement the Troy School District for its academic performance.
For example, she noted that the district’s high school graduation rate over the past five years is 96 percent.
“You’re outperforming everybody when it comes to reading,” Ybarra said. “Your district is using its funds effectively and efficiently. They are a poster child for achievement.”
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