Ban on vaccine passports advances following rowdy hearing

An audience member was hauled off in handcuffs in a rowdy hearing.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Dan McCay, asks questions of a witness, during the Senate Business and Labor Committee discussion of SR1, which will limit media access to the Senate floor and committee rooms, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Tuesday’s Senate hearing on banning vaccine passports featured the usual appeals to protect personal liberty that has become a familiar chorus during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there were other items from the culture war checklist, including a dash of misinformation and a comparison to the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. There was also an audience member hauled off in handcuffs.

Committee chair Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, warned attendees to the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee about breaking rules of decorum.

“One of our rules is just don’t be a jerk. We do not allow posters. We don’t allow stickers. We don’t allow outbursts or demonstrations,” McCay said before pausing the committee for several minutes so the crowd could remove the pro-HB60 stickers they were wearing. One person refused to remove his, which resulted in his ejection from the room by Utah state troopers providing security.

McCay even went so far as to warn Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, the bill’s sponsor to stay on topic, resulting in a testy exchange between the two lawmakers.

“I know our rules say they’re not to show any stickers or flags,” Brooks said before he was quickly interrupted by McCay.

”Representative, do not test the mettle of the chair,” McCay shot back.

”I don’t intend to, but I do believe I have a right to speak,” Brooks countered.

“Representative, please keep your comments germane to your bill,” McCay said sternly, which defused the situation.

While HB60 was born of the COVID-19 pandemic, it goes much further in response. It blocks most private businesses and governments from requiring the public to show proof of vaccination. The committee softened a provision barring employers from requiring vaccinations, changing the bill to exempt employees from vaccine requirements who have a doctor’s note proving a previous infection.

Brooks and supporters turned to a smorgasbord of arguments in defense of the bill, painting it as a civil rights measure, a human rights bill, protection for personal medical information and data, a bulwark against a creeping “technocracy” or a shield against forcing someone to undergo a forced medical procedure.

“Just because I own a business, that does not mean I have a right to your private health information. How do we draw the line?” Brooks asked.

If the bill passes, private businesses would no longer have the ability to keep unvaccinated Utahns off their premises. The Bayou restaurant in Salt Lake City is one of the few businesses in the state with such a requirement. Owner Mark Alston told lawmakers HB60 was an egregious overreach by the government.

“You’re about to create a protected class of people based on nine months of self-perceived oppression. This is a bad, bad idea,” Alston said.

The outcome was never in doubt as the committee approved the altered bill on a 7-2 vote, sending it to the full Senate.