Republicans nationwide oppose federal vaccine mandates: NPR

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A nurse fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Kansas City, Mo., March 19, 2021.

Orlin Wagner/AP

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Orlin Wagner/AP

A nurse fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Kansas City, Mo., March 19, 2021.

Orlin Wagner/AP

Republican lawmakers across the country seem determined to take on the Biden administration’s insistence that employers require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Kansas legislature is meeting in a special session starting Monday to go to war with the federal government over vaccine powers. But the courts will likely have the final say on whether powers are legal, and some worry that such bold moves could further undermine the state’s ability to respond to public health crises and put employers in a legal stalemate.

Occupational Health and Safety Administration last week paused app own temporary emergency standard requiring Companies with 100 or more employees require workers to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing by January 4, 2022.

Now that the rule is in legal limbo, the Republicans who dominate the Kansas legislature are unlikely to give up on their plans to give workers the freedom to run away from office.

“We will not allow the Biden Administration to play businesses God or doctor and decide whether a religious or medical exemption applies,” Republican Senate Chairman Ty Masterson said in a statement announcing the session. Said. “We will rely on individual Kansases.”

Throwing everything at the wall

Kansas’ bill reflects New law passed in Iowa expanding an individual’s ability to refuse a vaccine and keeping their jobs – or getting unemployment benefits.

Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wyoming and North Dakota They have already completed special sessions and passed bills aimed at overriding new federal powers.

deputies Florida Passed a bill that would fine businesses $10,000 per violation if they fail to offer their employees a set of exemptions. governor in Wyoming He signed just one of the 20 bills written during the special session—a bill that gave his office $4 million to challenge federal vaccine mandates.

NS new Iowa law directs employers to waive vaccination requirements for any worker who says they believe the vaccine will harm their or someone else’s health or well-being, or that it will contradict their religion. And they don’t need to provide any proof. Five states, including Kansas and Iowa, will elect their governors next year.

State lawmakers in Kansas passed a bill earlier this year that amends the Kansas Emergency Management Act to: take the power away from local public health officials and the governor and elected county commissioners.

Yet even as federal mandate is lifted, new state laws amending religious exemptions in Kansas could change the legal and public health systems for years to come.

“The bills appear to have been crafted to allow exemptions to swallow the rule,” says Sharon Brett, legal director of the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Brett says there is no religious freedom provision in the First Amendment that allows one person to endanger another person by practicing their religion.

Brett says that if employers have lacking incentives to verify the sincerity of an employee seeking a religious exemption, this will signal a fundamental change.

“It basically provides a two-tier justice system,” says Brett, “a place where the religious rights of people in a free society are upheld over public safety.”

Schools may be affected

New laws that strengthen religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines could undermine laws on books that require vaccinations for school-aged children.

The chief medical officer of the Association of State and Regional Health Officials, Dr. “This sets a precedent,” says Marcus Plescia. “Especially regarding childhood immunizations.”

He cites previous national measles outbreaks where some people obtained religious exemptions and remained unvaccinated. In such situations, Plescia says, public health officials can often lobby religious leaders to convince them that vaccines will do them good in their communities.

But in this case, he said, some of these religious exemptions are “not really something religions demand.”

State and local health officials are already facing this political and legal challenge as they are beset by the pandemic. This has made it difficult to campaign against new legislation that could have far-reaching effects on a range of vaccines.

“There is no clear national defender who can intervene,” Plescia says.

Meanwhile, groups like the conservative American Council for Legislative Change are drafting model legislation that has been passed by legislatures nationwide, he said.

Business groups feel stuck

Business groups in Iowa and Kansas also oppose the new law. The National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Kansas Chamber were vocally opposed to the law, and the Iowa Business and Industry Association said the vaccine exemption law was an additional mandate that could make it particularly difficult for Iowa companies to comply with federal rules.

“Employers are in this rock, and it’s a tough spot between the federal government and the state government of sorts,” says Denise Hill, an attorney and Drake University professor who has written a book about workplace vaccination imperatives. “And so it’s a really bad place for everybody.”

He says courts will ultimately determine how federal and state rules interact with each other.

Biden management three mandates. Companies with at least 100 employees are required to have vaccinations or weekly testing. Federal contractors and healthcare organizations are required to request vaccinations without the option of testing.

“As far as I know, there is nothing that tells an employer that they cannot get an exemption. [that] They can’t follow Iowa law,” says Republican Representative Henry Stone. pass of invoice in the Iowa House of Representatives. “He shouldn’t put them between a rock and a hard place.”

Stone said he’s heard from business leaders who say the Iowa law is working.

But Hill said that Iowa law a much broader language more than typical employer-based immunization authorization exemptions aimed at adapting to disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs.

“It really takes discretion from the employer,” Hill says. “He says they’re going to waive it. He’s not saying they’re going to have an interactive compromise discussion to see if they can give up on them. And that’s really problematic. I believe it contradicts federal requirements.”

Hill said employers could face fines or lose their ability to do business with the government if the federal government didn’t accept Iowa’s exemptions. If companies fire unvaccinated employees to comply with federal rules, they may be prepared to pay unemployment benefits for those workers under new Iowa law.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds participated in three multi-state litigation challenging each of the federal vaccine mandates. Requirement for companies with at least 100 employees blocked by the court, but it’s unclear what will happen with that or the other two entitlements.

“Don’t assume the stay will stay in place,” Hill says. “You have to get your ducks in a row to fit in.”

He says counselors and legal teams should help employers on a case-by-case basis.

“Does it do what it’s intended to do, both in terms of allowing people to work around employers’ vaccine mandates and in terms of some sort of response to what the federal government considers to be over-access? And that, of course, remains to be seen.” says hill.

Exemptions hurt efforts to end the pandemic

If Iowa law allows many people to avoid vaccination obligations, it could hurt efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Director of the University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Dr. “If we don’t actually have people vaccinated, we’re going to continue to have these unprotected pockets of people,” says Christy Petersen. Iowa “Even if they do get sick… The evidence is that they are not protected for very long. And we will continue to go through cycles of sickness and death within these groups.”

Petersen says workplace vaccination instructions are effective, and information from past vaccination campaigns shows that making it easier to get off a job lowers vaccination rates, according to Petersen. He says exemptions for child vaccinations require getting a signature or showing some type of proof.

“Apparently, an extra step makes people less likely to benefit from the exemption,” says Petersen. “So any small impediment leads to more people being vaccinated and more protection across the state.”

Abigail Censky He is KCUR’s politics and government correspondent. katarina sostarik State government correspondent for Iowa Public Radio.

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