Alabama’s COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption Bill in Position for Final Adoption
An Alabama House committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would require employers to grant exemptions to certain employees who do not wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
SB 9, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, would impose exemptions from COVID vaccinations for people with religious or medical objections. The bill would also prevent companies from firing employees who have filled out exemption forms. The legislation applies to all businesses, including healthcare providers.
The committee also approved SB 15, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. The bill would prevent schools from vaccinating minors without parental consent or asking individuals for their vaccination status. The bill would also allow the Alabama attorney general to seek injunctions against public or private entities that make vaccination status a condition for receiving services.
The committee’s action could put the bills, which are part of a larger challenge to a federal immunization plan, in place for final approval on Thursday. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon R-Monrovia said on Wednesday he believed the votes were there to pass the bills, but reported that the work was underway. McCutcheon had been skeptical of the chances of the legislation reaching the House floor, but said on Wednesday that public pressure and changes to the original legislation had pushed the legislation forward.
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“I said from day one that I felt like some of the bills we needed to work on regarding the vaccine mandate, some of the bills we were working on weren’t something that would have could be useful, ”he said. . “When it comes to working with (the attorney general), or the legal status of the bill, or our state’s businesses, these just weren’t good pieces of legislation.”
Most of the committee discussion on Wednesday focused on Elliott’s bill, which drew opposition from business groups. Representative Mike Jones, R-Andalucia, who deals with legislation in the House, said he was trying to mediate between supporters and opponents.
“The one thing that is really important to all of us is reducing or eliminating costs for the employee,” he said. “There is no cost for the form provided to the employee by the employer. It is a streamlined process to make it easier for the employee.
An employer could appeal an employee’s exemption to the Alabama Department of Labor and then to court. Stephen Morris, the department’s director of government relations, said the department wanted to get out of the bill.
“The Ministry of Labor is not set up to do this,” he said. “We don’t need to do that and again, it really puts the cart before the horse.”
Jones said the legislature may consider additional credit for the department in January, to provide them with assistance.
More than 15,000 Alabamians have died from COVID since authorities confirmed the first case in March 2020. The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, which has contributed to a summer increase in cases which have strained intensive care units in Alabama and required the deployment of federal teams to hospitals in southern Alabama to help overworked staff.
Biden’s vaccination plan, unveiled while the Alabama wave was underway, requires companies with 100 or more employees to require employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly, and also requires federal contractors to get vaccinated. The White House has cited the success of private companies with mandates increasing vaccination rates among their own employees while advocating for their policies.
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Republican officials in Alabama have pushed hard against the plan, saying it is a federal excess. Governor Kay Ivey last week issued an executive order prohibiting executive agencies from cooperating with the plan; the impact of the ordinance is unclear. Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall have also joined a lawsuit to try to overturn the order.
Some groups who support the goals of state legislation have said it does not go far enough. Casey Cavender of Health Freedom Alabama, a group that opposes Biden’s vaccination plan, said Elliott’s bill could allow employers to punish employees who refuse vaccination.
“This bill has no penalties, no adverse action for a company that chooses to discriminate against them,” Cavender said.
Business groups have criticized the legislation as interfering with companies’ ability to hire or fire employees. Robin Stone, the acting executive director of the Business Council of Alabama, criticized the Biden plan on Wednesday, but said the bills were excessive.
“This legislation will prevent Alabama employers from making their own personnel decisions and will put those decisions in the hands of the state government,” he said.
Deaths and illnesses from COVID in Alabama were not raised during the discussion. This drew a rebuke from Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, after the vote. Warren said she wouldn’t want to work in a place “where I am standing next to someone who is going to expose me to a virus”.
Warren also cited the Legislative Assembly’s approval of a 2019 law – since blocked by federal courts – that banned abortion in all cases, including sexual assault.
“We will not protect a pregnant woman from rape, but we can have the rights of those who do not want to keep themselves healthy and protect others,” she said. “It’s a confusion.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]