SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are set to block or undermine President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers even before regulations are published.
The growing battle against what some see as excess on the part of the federal government is fueling part of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already made up their own minds to require their workers to do so. get vaccinated.
The dusting will almost certainly end up in court as GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to prosecute once the rule is unveiled.
Courts have long upheld vaccination warrants, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with details yet to be announced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome is not entirely clear.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday prohibiting private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. This was perhaps the most direct challenge so far from Biden’s announcement a month ago that workers in private companies with more than 100 employees should be vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus every week.
“No entity in Texas can compel an individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (…) who opposes such vaccination,” Abbott wrote in his order.
White House officials rejected Abbott’s order, saying the question of whether state law could replace federal law was settled 160 years ago during the Civil War. They said the Biden administration would push through the opposition and implement the president’s full set of mandates, which could affect up to 100 million Americans in total.
Noting the country’s COVID-19 death toll of more than 700,000, White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused the opposition of putting politics before security.
âI think it’s pretty clear when you make a choice that goes against all the public health information and data, that it’s not based on what’s in the best interests of the people you are doing. rule. Maybe it’s in the interest of your own policy, âshe said.
Several large Texas companies have already implemented their own vaccine mandates, and two Texas-based airlines, Southwest and American, said Tuesday they would follow the Biden administration’s order, saying the Federal action supersedes any warrant or state law.
Elsewhere, Arkansas lawmakers have approved a measure creating exemptions from the vaccination mandate. While the GOP governor has not said whether he will sign it, it has raised concerns that companies are being forced to choose to break federal or state law.
âWe are binding the hands of Arkansas businesses who want to make their own decisions about how best to protect their employees,â said Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce. Some of the state’s largest companies, including Walmart and Tyson Foods, have demanded that some or all employees get vaccinated.
Calls for special legislative sessions to counter vaccination warrants have been heard in states like Wyoming, Kansas and South Dakota, where Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has so far resisted calls to immediately consider plans to law that would ensure that people could opt out.
“I hear from people almost daily who are going to lose their jobs, living in fear,” said Republican State Representative Scott Odenbach, who clashed with Noem on the issue. âThey shouldn’t have to choose between feeding their families and their own medical freedom. “
In Tennessee, a $ 500 million incentive deal to attract a Ford Motor Co. project could be jeopardized if GOP Governor Bill Lee refuses to consider further easing COVID-19 restrictions, including requirements on vaccines, the powerful Speaker of the House told a local radio station.
In Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is also resisting a push by his party to ban workplace vaccination warrants.
Bills are also being introduced or drafted elsewhere, including in swing states like Ohio and New Hampshire, where the Republican sponsor was elected Speaker of the House after his predecessor died from COVID-19.
“We have made it clear that government mandates are not the path to successful vaccination rates and will only cause further divisions in this country,” President Sherm Packard said last month.
In Utah, lawmakers took no action, but a record crowd of more than 600 filled a legislative courtroom last week.
Rob Moore, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Big-D Construction, said he supported vaccines but had questions about the mandate’s deployment. He already has a shortage of workers at his construction sites, and he said employee surveys tell him nearly 20% of his workers don’t want to be vaccinated, so they should be tested every week.
âIt’s heavy on our minds right now. I do not know if the federal government has given all of this thought. The cost is going to be huge, âhe said.
In other sectors, vaccine needs have gone smoothly. In Utah, the Jazz of the NBA vaccinates its employees. It also requires fans at matches to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. So far, only a few ticket refunds have been needed, and the season opener is expected to be sold out by next week, Jazz spokesman Frank Zang said.
âI think there is an understanding of what is at stake here, in terms of having a safe environment for people to again enjoy sports, concerts and shows,â he said. .
While the Conservative legislative push may not succeed in blocking mandates, it could be a stumbling block and could prove to be another factor pushing the GOP further to the right.
Abbott’s order, for example, comes as he faces criticism from right-wing candidates over COVID-19 policies. In Arizona, the attorney general filed an early complaint as he runs in an overcrowded Republican primary for the US Senate.
Mike Meckler, a Conservative activist from Texas who helped found the Tea Party ten years ago, said the question of the mandate was on fire among young people. He summed up the mood among the activists as follows: âIf you are not with us, then you are with the fascists.
Only about 56% of Americans have been fully immunized, well below the level experts believe is necessary to control the virus.
More than 200 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and serious side effects have been shown to be extremely rare. Experts say any risk from the vaccine is far less than the danger posed by COVID-19.
A recent poll shows that about half of Americans are in favor of workers in large companies getting vaccinated or tested every week. But people are deeply divided based on their political party, with about 6 in 10 Republicans opposing the employees’ tenure, according to the Associated Press and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research survey.
Even before Biden’s announcement, there were more than 100 bills in state legislatures seeking to limit vaccination mandates over the past year, said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, professor at Hastings College of the Law. from the University of California. Most of them failed, but several states have imposed certain limits, many involving state agencies or schools.
Montana is the only state to have passed a law prohibiting private employers from requiring vaccines. The measure includes penalties for business owners with a fine of $ 500 or jail time. He faces two legal challenges, from the Montana Medical Association and a law firm that says the rule interferes with companies’ decisions about how to provide a safe work environment.
As judges assess some of these cases, a lot will depend on exactly how the national rule is written. This will come through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has broad power to regulate the workplace. It will be written as a temporary emergency rule.
“They will need to phrase it in a way that demonstrates that this is a workplace related case and not just an attempt to increase vaccination rates in the United States more generally,” said Reiss. “I expect the main benefit of the mandate to be that it covers companies that already want to do it.”