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Idaho lt. governor issues ‘vaccine passport’ order while governor is out of state

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued a sweeping executive order Tuesday banning so-called vaccine passports for schools and universities — an order Gov. Brad Little said he will reverse as soon as he returns to the state Wednesday.

“Today, as Acting Governor, I fixed Gov. Little’s Executive Order on ‘vaccine passports’ to make sure that K-12 schools and universities cannot require vaccinations OR require mandatory testing. I will continue to fight for your individual Liberty!” tweeted McGeachin, who is elected separately from Little and running to take her fellow Republican’s job next year under the campaign slogan, “Make Idaho free again.”

Little had already issued a similar order in April banning state agencies from requiring or issuing proof of Covid-19 vaccinations. McGeachin’s version added public K-12 schools and universities, and ordered a ban on mandatory Covid testing for people looking to access state services.

Little, who was touring the southern border with other Republican governors when McGeachin issued the order, tweeted, “I will be rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the Lt. Governor when I return” on Wednesday evening.

In a statement, he suggested McGeachin didn’t have the power to issue any such orders.

“I am in Texas performing my duties as the duly-elected governor of Idaho, and I haven not authorized the Lt. Governor to act on my behalf,” he said, although the state constitution requires the lieutenant governor to act as governor when the chief executive is out of state.

Little already had reason to be wary of McGeachin.

“Before I even left the state, the Lt. Governor unabashedly requested information from the Adjutant General to deploy our National Guard to the border, the same place I am visiting today to work with my fellow Republican governors on solutions to the crisis,” he said, calling her apparent attempt to deploy troops “political grandstanding” and an “affront to the Idaho constitution.”

Little then noted that earlier this year, he sent a “specialized team of Idaho State Police troopers to support drug interdiction at the border.”

Major Gen. Michael J. Garshak, the head of the Idaho National Guard, rebuffed McGeachin’s request for information about how to activate the guard.

“I am unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) from Texas or Arizona,” Garshak replied in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “As you are aware, the Idaho National Guard is not a law enforcement agency.”

The incident wasn’t the first time McGeachin took advantage of Little’s absence from the state to loosen coronavirus safety restrictions.

In May, while Little was at a Republican conference in Tennessee, the lieutenant governor issued an order banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings. Little had never issued a statewide mask-mandate prohibition, but did not stop counties, cities and schools from issuing their own directives.

Little reversed her order as soon as he returned, and called her actions then an “abuse of power” and “an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”

“This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny — something we all oppose,” he said.

There have been more than 261,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths in Idaho since the outbreak began, according to data collected by NBC News.

The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Over 750,000 residents are vaccinated, about 42 percent of the population, according to NBC’s vaccination tracker.

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