Utah lawmakers are hoping to cut through the partisan rancor surrounding vaccines and, more importantly, vaccine mandates when they hold a special committee meeting on the subject next month.
Legislators are currently debating how to respond to a proposal from President Joe Biden requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to either ensure their workers have the COVID-19 vaccine or are tested weekly for the virus. Federal employees and contractors would be required to be vaccinated without a testing option. The order would be carried out by the Department of Labor and OSHA.
Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes, and the GOP-controlled Legislature have all vowed to push back against Biden’s proposal, claiming it’s unconstitutional and overreach by the federal government.
The problem is nobody knows precisely when that rule will go into effect or even what it will say. That’s a perfect recipe for lots of saber-rattling while officials wait on the actual wording of the regulation, which is expected in the next few weeks.
Because of that ambiguity, legislative leaders believe this is a perfect opportunity to gather public input from Utahns on both sides of the issue. On Oct. 4, they’ll do just that with a special Business and Labor Committee hearing at the Capitol.
“I hope we get a balance of those who are opposed to vaccines and mandates as well as people who support what the president is doing,” said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who will be in charge of that committee hearing. “I am really hoping for a robust discussion. All we have right now is what President Biden said, which is being spun by both the left and the right.”
Bramble warns he will have no tolerance for anyone who tries to shout down or intimidate those with who they disagree, saying he will not hesitate to eject anyone who breaks decorum.
“There’s a lot of posturing and partisan tribalism on both sides of this issue,” Bramble said. “This is our opportunity for Utahns to express their concerns about the policy and discuss what should be done.”
Last week the Health and Human Services Interim Committee held a one-sided hearing on how to block vaccination mandates for private businesses. At that hearing, the audience catcalled and booed legislators who attempted to speak in favor of vaccinations.
The committee hearing is just the first step in crafting a possible legislative response to Biden’s vaccine order. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told Republican leaders on Saturday there had been a push for lawmakers to call themselves into a special session in reaction to the vaccine or testing push.
Adams says a special session may be a possibility at some point, but right now there’s no proposal from the Biden administration and no clear path for lawmakers. He stresses the best thing to do right now is get public input, which was nonexistent last year during the early phases of the pandemic.
“That’s what separates an executive order from a legislative effort,” Adams says. “I expect to get good input from people on both sides of the issue.”