CITY SALT LAKE (AP) – Under the leadership of the Texas governor, conservative Republicans in several states are trying to block or restrict President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination demands for private employers even before the rules are passed.
The escalating struggle for what some see as overreaching from the federal government is fueling part of the GOP base, even as many large employers have already decided to demand that their workers get a chance.
The discussion will almost certainly end in court, as GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have pledged to sue as soon as the rule is made public.
Courts have long backed vaccination mandates and the Constitution gives the federal government an edge over the states, but with details still to be announced and more conservative bench judges, the outcome is not entirely clear.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting private companies or any other organization from demanding the vaccine. This was perhaps the most direct concern for Biden’s statement a month ago that workers in private companies with more than 100 employees would have to get vaccinated or tested for coronavirus on a weekly basis.
“No legal entity in Texas can force COVID-19 vaccination on any person … who objects to such vaccination,” Abbott wrote in his order.
White House officials brushed off 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 will push through the opposition and enact a private workplace mandate along with others it has prescribed for federal contractors and healthcare workers receiving Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements. In total, these mandates could affect up to 100 million Americans.
Noting that the country’s death toll from COVID-19 exceeds 700,000, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki accused the opposition of taking politics over security.
“I think when you make a choice against all the public health information and data available, it’s very clear that it’s not based on what is in the best interest of the people you control. Perhaps it is in the interest of your own policies, “she said.
Several large companies in Texas have already met their own vaccine requirements, and two Texas-based airlines, Southwest and American, said Tuesday they would follow orders from the Biden administration, stating that federal action would overturn any state regulations or laws.
Elsewhere, lawmakers in Arkansas have approved a vaccine exemption measure. While the GOP governor did not say whether he would sign it, it raised concerns that businesses would be forced to choose whether to violate federal or state law.
“We tie the hands of businesses in Arkansas who want to make their own decisions about how best to keep their people safe,” said Randy Zuck, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce. Some of the state’s largest companies, including Walmart and Tyson Foods, have required some or all of their employees to be vaccinated.
Calls for special legislative sessions to oppose the vaccine have been heard in states such as Wyoming, Kansas and South Dakota, where Republican Gov. Christie Noem still resists calls for immediate consideration of legislation that would guarantee people the opportunity to refuse vaccinations.
“I hear almost daily from people who will lose their jobs and live in fear,” said Republican MP Scott Odenbach, who has come into conflict with Noem over the issue. “They don’t have to choose between feeding their family and their own medical freedom.”
In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers pushing GOP Gov. Bill Lee to consider further easing COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine requirements, could undermine a $ 500 million stimulus deal to bring in the Ford Motor Co. project, a House speaker said. local radio station.
In Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is also resisting pressure within his party to ban vaccinations in the workplace.
Bills are being introduced or being drafted elsewhere, including Ohio and New Hampshire, where the Republican sponsor was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives after his predecessor died of COVID-19.
“We have made it clear that government orders are not the road to successful vaccinations, but will only cause further division in this country,” Speaker Sherm Packard said last month.
In Utah, lawmakers took no action, but a crowd of more than 600 filled the legislature last week.
Rob Moore, CEO of Big-D Construction in Salt Lake City, said he supports vaccines but has questions about the mandate rollout. He already has a shortage of workers in his workplaces, and said employee surveys show him that almost 20% of his workers do not want to get vaccinated, so they will need to be checked weekly.
“It’s hard on our minds now. I don’t know if the federal government has thought it all well. The cost will be enormous, ”he said.
In other sectors, vaccine needs have gone smoothly. In Utah, the Jazz NBA forces its employees to get vaccinated. It also requires fans to show proof of vaccination or negative test for COVID-19 at games. There have only been a few refunds for tickets so far, and season opening tickets are expected to be sold out by next week, Jazz spokesman Frank Zang said.
“I think there is an understanding of what is at stake here in terms of creating a safe environment so that people can enjoy sports, concerts and shows again,” he said.
More than 200 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and serious side effects have been extremely rare. Experts say any risk associated with a vaccine is much lower than the danger posed by COVID-19.
A recent poll shows that about half of Americans are in favor of requiring workers in large companies to be vaccinated or tested weekly. But people are divided based on their political party: about 6 in 10 Republicans oppose the employee mandate, according to a poll by the Associated Press and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research.
Montana is the only state with a law prohibiting private employers from demanding vaccines. This measure includes fines for business owners in the form of a $ 500 fine or jail time. He faces two lawsuits, from the Montana Medical Association and from a law firm, which claims the rule prevents companies from making decisions about how to provide a safe work environment.
As judges weigh some of these cases, a lot will depend on how the nationwide rule is written. It will be drafted as a temporary emergency rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has broad powers to regulate workplaces.
“They’ll have to frame it in a way that proves that it’s about the workplace and not just trying to increase vaccination rates in the United States more broadly,” said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a professor at the University of California at Hastings College. Of the law. “I expect that the main benefit of the mandate will be that it provides cover for companies that already want to do so.”