People will have a chance to weigh in on the Department of Health and Welfare's administrative rules at a public hearing in Idaho Falls on Friday. Judging from the public comment the department has received so far, immunization requirements and a couple of rules related to medical testing for newborns and child protective services could be hot topics.
The hearing will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the second floor conference room of DHW's Region VII office, 150 Shoup Ave. DHW is scheduled to hold a similar hearing in Boise on Thursday. Next week, it will hold hearings in Coeur d'Alene on Monday, in Lewiston and Grangeville on Tuesday and in Twin Falls on Wednesday.
In past years, the Legislature has renewed these administrative rules, and the rules governing every other state agency, in an omnibus bill passed at the end of the legislative session. This year, though, lawmakers didn't pass such a bill due to a deadlock between House and Senate Republicans over whether to make some changes to the rules review process. As a result, the rules all would have expired on July 1. Gov. Brad Little cut 139 chapters of agency rules, or 19 percent of the total, many of them duplicative or obsolete, and renewed the rest as temporary rules.
Idaho requires a list of immunizations for schoolchildren, although parents are allowed to opt out of vaccinating their children for any reason, and Idaho has a lower vaccination rate than most states. The group Health Freedom Idaho and many of the Legislature's more conservative Republican lawmakers have been pushing to reduce immunization requirements and make it easier for parents to opt out. A bill that would have required schools to notify parents of their right to opt out of vaccinating their children passed the House this year but never got a hearing in the Senate. Also, a controversial rule requiring incoming high school seniors to get meningitis booster shots is one of the many on the docket at DHW's upcoming hearings. The proposed rule passed the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees, which are charged with reviewing and approving health-related rules, by a single vote each time.
As of Wednesday, DHW has gotten 28 emails arguing against immunization rules, most citing a belief that the government has no business being involved in vaccination or mandating a medical procedure, and 62 in favor of keeping the current requirements.
"Nothing should ever be mandated when it comes to anything pertaining to the body," wrote Jill Watts of Nampa. "One's own bodily autonomy is one of the fundamental basic God-given rights and should not be regulated at any level. These rules are not emergency and Idaho is a free republic and the people do not wish to mandate these things according to federal recommendations from agencies with clear conflicts of interest and where the state (and) local agencies clearly benefit with budget perks and funding benefits."
Many of the pro-vaccination writers blamed Idaho's low immunization rate for recent outbreaks of measles and Hepatitis A.
"Please protect Idaho’s children from misinformed persons who do not know or do not want to know the benefits of vaccines for our community," wrote Carolyn Bridges, who is the chairwoman of the American College of Physicians' immunization committee. "Although opponents of vaccines may be vocal, they are the small minority and their arguments are without scientific basis. In contrast, the vast numbers of Idahoans fully support immunizations and recognize the importance of vaccines for their own health and their children’s health. And rigorous science clearly demonstrates the benefit of vaccines; vaccination programs are fully supported by both the medical and legitimate scientific communities."
Some of the vaccine skeptics also wrote to oppose a rule requiring some medical tests for newborns and a couple of other rules related to Child Protective Services interviewing children without a parent present and consent for medical care when a child is removed by CPS.
"CPS has been acting outside of the U.S. Constitution and Idaho Constitution," wrote Bret Hormuth. "Parents are being investigated without due process of law with no clear crime committed. I cannot imagine the trauma these children and families are being put through. Children removed prior to criminal investigations need to stop!!!!!"
As well as holding hearings at which both testimony and written public comment will be accepted, DHW is accepting written comment on the rules through Aug. 28. Little has reauthorized 71 of DHW's original 83 rule chapters, Idaho Reports reported Wednesday. DHW has identified 12 others with outdated or repetitive language it plans to amend, but those won't include any substantive policy changes.
As this series of hearings is only on rules that were in place before the 2019 legislative session, one potentially controversial rule regarding people's ability to change their sex on their birth certificate is not on the docket at the moment. Idaho adopted rules to let transgender people change their birth certificates in response to a 2018 federal court ruling. In May the DHW board voted to require anyone under 18 to get a doctor's sign-off before changing their birth certificate, and DHW plans to hold a separate hearing on this rule in September, said department spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr.