Two bills seeking to protect vaccine-hesitant Utahns from discrimination in the workplace or community are slated to debut in the 2022 session, which begins next month.
HB 60 from St. George Republican Walt Brooks bans so-called “vaccine passports.” Private businesses could not require customers to prove they’re vaccinated against COVID-19. Government entities would also be blocked from requiring proof of vaccination. The bill bars employers from requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination status. They would also not be allowed to require individuals to get vaccinated under some circumstances.
Gov. Spencer Cox has previously said he would not support legislation that barred private companies from requiring workers to get vaccinated. Brooks’ bill stops mandates for vaccines implemented under emergency use or undergoing safety trials.
Schools, child care programs and nursing homes are exempted.
In Utah, it’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, or whether they are pregnant. The proposal would add the phrase “immunity status” to that list.
Brooks did not respond to a request for comment.
The second proposal made public this week requires employers to exempt workers from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate if they provide documentation from their doctor that they had been previously infected with the virus. A previous infection would be treated the same as if the employee had been vaccinated.
HB 63 is sponsored by Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, who missed almost the entire 2021 session with a case of COVID so severe he almost died.
“I’ve seen and heard from a number of people who are having to decide between losing their jobs or getting the vaccine,” Hawkins said. “With this piece of legislation, I am trying to give those individuals and their families another option to keep their jobs by providing written verification of a previous infection, be it from a doctor or state-approved lab result.”
Hawkins says he has been vaccinated and received a booster following his near-fatal infection last year.
“I think the vaccine is a literal godsend for the majority of us, but some people can’t get it for reasons that are personal to them. To force them to get it or lose their ability to provide for themselves and their families is anti-American,” Hawkins said.
A previous infection may not provide much protection against the omicron variant that is rapidly becoming the dominant strain of the virus, including in Utah. A recent study from the U.K. showed the risk of reinfection with omicron is more than five times higher than with previous strains. The first U.S. death from omicron was a Houston man who was unvaccinated and infected previously.
Last week Gov. Cox again urged Utahns to get vaccinated and boosted, saying that was the best prevention measure against omicron.
Utah lawmakers kneecapped any vaccine mandates by requiring employers to allow workers to opt out due to a strongly held personal belief. Utah is also part of a multistate lawsuit against the Biden administration’s requirement that businesses with 100 or more employees require workers to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. The rule is slated to take effect on Jan. 6, but Utah and other states have asked the Supreme Court to step in.