Concerns about vaccines and parental rights dominated a public hearing on administrative rules in Idaho Falls on Friday.

Three people at the hearing on the state Department of Health and Welfare’s 1,685 pages of rules praised vaccines and argued in favor of keeping the state’s current vaccination mandates in place.

“It is unfortunate that there is a small, loud population that is anti-science, believing everything Dr. Google tells them,” said Tiffany Larsen, who is a registered nurse.

The other seven people who testified hit on a mix of topics, but a common theme was that parents, not the government, should make health decisions for their children.

“I believe that the ultimate responsibility to protect children’s health and welfare lies with the parents,” said Anna Russell.

Some of them said parents should be notified of their right to opt out of vaccinating their children and said Child Protective Services operates in a way that violates parents’ constitutional rights and should be reined in. A few told stories of their personal negative experiences with vaccines or CPS.

“I got polio from a vaccine, and I’ve suffered for 40-something years with it,” said Catherine Miller.

In past years, the Legislature has renewed the administrative rules governing every 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 July 1. Gov. Brad Little cut 12 chapters of DHW’s rules, leaving 71 for the Legislature to consider reauthorizing when it reconvenes in 2020.

Idaho requires certain vaccinations of children entering schools. One new one was added this year, requiring a meningitis booster for students entering 12th grade. However, parents can opt out of vaccinating their children for any reason, and some lawmakers have been pushing against vaccination requirements and to make it easier to opt out. A bill that would have required schools to notify parents of their right to opt out passed the state House this year but never got a hearing in the Senate.

“Parents shouldn’t have to know magically that they have the right to exemption when the schools are telling parents that they have to provide immunization records,” said former state Rep. Ron Nate, a Republican from Rexburg.

Nate also said the state shouldn’t require anything of private or religious schools.

“When the government tries to tell parochial schools what they need to do or can’t do, they’re treading on ground that is protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

Three former Republican state House members from eastern Idaho — Nate, Karey Hanks and JoAn Wood — testified at the hearing. Wood didn’t seek re-election in 2014, while Nate and Hanks left the Legislature after losing the 2018 primaries to more moderate challengers. Both Nate and Hanks mentioned in their testimony that they are working with the Madison Liberty Institute now, although they said their personal views don’t necessarily reflect an official stance by the institute.

All three former lawmakers criticized the rulemaking process, saying it should be more difficult to create new rules or that both chambers of the Legislature, rather than one as it is now, should have to approve a new rule. Disagreement over this is the very reason all the rules will need to be reauthorized next year — House Republicans supported a bill that would require both chambers to approve a new rule, which the Senate opposed, leading to an impasse. Nate noted the positive coverage Little’s cuts to the state’s rules got in conservative media and said he didn’t share their enthusiasm, since most of the rules are on track to be reauthorized anyway.

“I was not that excited because I knew what would happen immediately,” he said.

Paraphrasing Ezra Taft Benson, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and U.S. Agriculture Secretary in the Eisenhower administration, Hanks said “the sole function of government is to protect life, liberty and property, and anything beyond this is usurpation and oppression.” She said she opposes immunization requirements, and also urged that a rule allowing for Medicaid funding of abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is endangered be stricken.

“Rape, incest, it’s still murder, and taxpayers are not supposed to support abortion,” she said.

Wood said one of her daughters almost died from a smallpox vaccination many years ago.

“It was only through prayer and the ability of doctors that we were able to sustain her life,” she said.

The vaccine supporters said vaccines are a good thing that help protect everybody. Geri Rackow, district director of Eastern Idaho Public Health, said drops in Idaho’s immunization rate have helped to fuel recent outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and Hepatitis A.

“Vaccines are one of public health’s greatest advances in modern medicine,” Rackow said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.