Opinion: Idaho lawmakers need to prioritize health and safety of constituents

Idaho capitol building, Idaho legislature reconvenes to discuss COVID bills
Photo by Claire Keener
Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the adjournment of the Idaho legislative session on Nov. 17, 2021.

This week, the Idaho Legislature reconvened after voting to recess, rather than end the regular session earlier in May. This means that the reconvention will be a continuation of the 2021 regular session, rather than a special session, and legislators will not be limited on what bills they can introduce. 

On the start of the renewed session, it will be its 309th day, marking Idaho’s longest legislative session in history.

The 2022 regular session is set to convene in just seven weeks.

In most cases, the legislative session begins in January and convenes for up to three months before ending the session for the year. The 2021 session is an outlier in more ways than one.

The House Ways and Means Committee met Monday morning to consider what legislation to introduce for the session. According to the Ways and Means agenda, most of the 29 bills that will be considered deal with COVID-19 issues and regulations. 

It’s no secret that the Idaho government is largely against any kind of vaccine or mask mandate. Gov. Little has joined two multi-state lawsuits against President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. So it’s not a surprise that a number of proposed bills are working to not only make it illegal to mandate vaccinations but to also limit “federal overreach,” according to one draft legislation title

Legislators will also try to make any mask mandates illegal, despite continuous research supporting that masks are one of the best ways, behind vaccinations, to stop the spread of COVID-19. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 County Check, Ada County remains in a high transmission state and recommends that people in Ada County continue to wear masks indoors in public settings. 

Among the first duties of the lengthened legislative session was a 49-19 vote to formally censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings. The vote followed Giddings’ decision to reveal the identity of Jane Doe, an intern who reported former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger for sexually assaulting her. 

Giddings revealed the identity of Jane Doe in a blog post she shared on her Facebook page, including a photo of the victim and her full name. Even after Jane Doe’s identity had been protected by other lawmakers and police, Giddings seemed to go out of her way to identify the victim, which, at best, is just an awful, immoral thing to do. 

Idaho capitol building, Idaho legislature reconvenes to discuss COVID bills
[Photo of the Idaho state flag hanging in the rotunda of the Idaho State Capitol building in Boise, ID]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

According to Katie Terhune with KTVB, Giddings stood by her choices and said, “I would not have done anything differently. I think my intent was pure.” However, intent is not the most important thing here, especially with Giddings refusing to admit what she did was wrong. 

It’s pertinent that all people involved with a sexual assault case, especially elected officials, treat the victim with respect and understanding. Doxxing the victim when she has chosen to keep her identity undisclosed is incredibly harmful and can lead to harassment, issues with the case and can prevent other victims from coming forward. 

Even though Giddings’ actions against Jane Doe weren’t illegal, Giddings later lied about her Facebook post under oath during her ethics hearing, denying the claims until another representative pulled up the still public post. 

The decision to censure Giddings came after a two-hour debate on Monday morning, Nov. 15. Giddings testified that she hadn’t even read the post before she shared it, which is just another example of poor judgment.

If our lawmakers are sharing information without even reading it or knowing what kind of information they are sharing, how can we ever trust them to keep us or themselves informed enough to make governing decisions? 

Democracy relies on representatives like Giddings facilitating community conversations around topical issues. Sharing information that directly endangers anyone, let alone a victim of sexual assault, only proves the incompetence of some of our legislators and how little they value the livelihoods of others.

With the censure of Giddings out of the way, the continuation of Idaho’s longest legislative session will be focused on COVID-19 related bills. I urge Idaho lawmakers to keep the health and wellbeing of their constituents and citizens in mind. 

COVID-19 has unfortunately been turned into a heated political issue, despite the fact that it is a very real health crisis affecting people across the globe in drastic ways. 

We need to set partisan beliefs and opinions aside and listen to our healthcare professionals when they tell us that the vaccines are safe, that masks are important and that, if we care for one another, we can push through this crisis together.

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