An Idaho Senate panel has introduced two different proposals to address state laws allowing families to cite religious reasons for medical decisions without fear of being charged with neglect or abuse.
However, the bills ushered in Wednesday do not attempt to repeal the most contentious sections of the law.
The first proposal, backed by Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, would tweak only Idaho's civil laws to make it easier for judges to get involved in faith-healing cases. It does not change the state's religious exemption regarding criminal charges.
"We've been working on this literally all session," said Johnson, who co-chaired the legislative interim committee last summer that reviewed the state's faith-healing laws for possible changes. "In a perfect world, we would have had this completed this much earlier."
The second proposal does almost the opposite. It directs courts to consider other forms of treatment, like faith healing, before ordering emergency medical treatment for a child in cases of neglect.
"What this bill simply does is recognize there are other forms of treatment besides medicine," said Dan Sevy, a member of the Followers of Christ who believes in faith-healing and has lost two children after refusing them medical care. "I represent only myself."
Focus on the exemption has exploded over the past year in Idaho as more attention has been placed on the deaths of children among members of the Followers of Christ — based in southwestern Idaho — from treatable conditions, including pneumonia and food poisoning.
The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously agreed to consider both plans later in a full legislative hearing — which has not yet been scheduled. Yet even if the proposals survive the committee, House leadership has previously voiced resistance to considering the proposal this session. Furthermore, lawmakers are working to adjourn by March 24, not leaving a lot of time for leaders to battle it out over faith-healing.
In 2015, a governor-appointed working group found that the deaths of two children occurred because the families withheld medical assistance for religious reasons. One death was related to complications of diabetes, and the other followed a prolonged gastrointestinal illness. The report concluded the deaths could have been prevented.