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Politics & Government

Group Opposing Vaccine Mandates Floods Utah Legislative Committee Meeting

A photo of a covid-19 vaccine and syringe.
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Despite activists’ call to action, the Health and Human Services Interim Committee did not vote on anything related to vaccine mandates Wednesday.

A group opposing vaccine mandates flooded a legislative committee meeting Wednesday, asking lawmakers to pass a bill that would ban the government from requiring businesses to mandate vaccines for their employees. So many people showed up at the Health and Human Services Interim Committee that dozens had to be sent to an overflow room in a nearby building on Capitol Hill.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week requiring businesses with staff of more than 100 people to ensure all employees are vaccinated or tested weekly.

“We already have labor shortages and serious supply chain issues affecting every industry,” said Kristen Chevrier with Utah Open for Business, the advocacy group that showed up enmasse to the hearing. “The last thing we want to do right now is to burden employers further with employee shortages and the responsibility for enforcing and tracking medical mandates.”

Many speakers talked about how small businesses couldn’t afford to enforce the rule, although companies with fewer than 100 workers are exempt.

Utah passed a law in March that bans governmental entities — including public universities — from requiring vaccines that are under emergency use authorization. Since the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, multiple state universities moved forward with vaccine mandates.

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, told Chevrier he didn’t think the state had the legal right to go against Biden’s executive order.

“I do believe that what President Biden has done is unconstitutional and will ultimately be overturned in the courts, hopefully sooner rather than later,” Anderegg said. “With the supremacy clause, as I understand the Constitution, if he were to continue this effort and the rules were put in place, even if we were to pass a proposed bill or this concept, we would most likely find ourselves in contravention of that federal rule or law.”

Anderegg thanked the crowd for speaking their minds to the Legislature.

“This is your chance to vent,” he said. “Many of us up here are on your side and agree with you on these policies, and we just want you to know that we hear you loud and clear.”

Committee Chair Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, asked the crowd several times to stop clapping, cheering and shouting throughout the hearing. When Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, who works as a physician anesthesiologist, urged the audience to get vaccine information “from reputable sources like your doctor,” many members of the audience groaned and laughed.

“This is real,” she said. “I work in a busy operating room. We are canceling surgeries because there are no beds. We have a challenge that we need to work together as a community to address.”

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, told the committee he would be sponsoring a bill to increase criminal penalties for attacking hospital workers.

“We have hospital staff, doctors, nurses [and] techs being physically attacked as we speak in the hospitals,” he said. “A part of the reason that we're seeing so many people leaving health care, part of the reason why we have such a huge crisis in the ICU right now … do you really want to do a job where, you know, you will be physically attacked?”

The Health and Human Services Interim Committee did not vote on anything related to vaccine mandates Wednesday, and no lawmakers suggested they begin the process of sponsoring a bill on the issue.

Editor’s Note: Rep. Suzanne Harrison is a member of KUER’s advisory board.

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