- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A key Republican lawmaker says he won’t allow legislation seeking to modify Idaho’s faith-healing exemption to be introduced during this year’s legislative session.

Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, a Republican from Twin Falls, had previously said he would allow a hearing on modifying the law, which currently allows families to cite religious reasons for medical decisions without fear of being charged with neglect or abuse.

The Times-News reports that Heider never received a request for a hearing from the bill’s sponsor.

“I would say the time has pretty well run out,” Heider said.

Democratic Rep. John Gannon, of Boise, had been working on the legislation after failing to get a legislative hearing for a similar proposal in 2014.

The issue has gained attention over the years awareness has increased over the deaths of numerous children of members of the Followers of Christ group in southwestern Idaho from treatable conditions, including pneumonia and food poisoning.

Many children are buried at a cemetery overlooking the Snake River.

Those concerns, however, have yet to result in action by the Idaho Legislature because many Republican lawmakers are leery of impeding on religious rights.

In 2015, a working group appointed by the governor 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.

“(Heider) could have scheduled the hearing any time he wanted to,” Gannon said.

Gov. C.L. “Butch’ Otter announced earlier this year that he asked state House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill to form a committee to study Idaho’s faith-healing exemption. Otter said he is concerned with the number of children who die in Idaho because their parents choose faith healing for religious reasons over medical assistance.

However, it’s still unknown if legislative leaders will take the Republican governor up on his suggestion.

“A working group is not going to change people’s minds,” Hill said.

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