The House this morning approved HB 1977 by Rep. Josh Bryant, 68-23, to provide a supposed way for workers to exempt themselves from work vaccine requirements and to provide federal money if available to cover the cost of testing as an alternative to a shot.
The bill, in addition to setting out negative COVID or antibody tests as an alternative to vaccinations, also provides a pathway to unemployment benefits for a worker who lost a job over failure to comply with work rules.
The vote was important. It exceeded by one vote the necessary two-thirds vote to add an emergency clause so that it could take effect immediately. A carbon copy of this bill has also passed the Senate, but adoption of the emergency clause on that bill failed by one vote.
So now the main action shifts to the Senate. It seems likely to pass this bill as well, with the drama over whether it could take effect immediately. Immediate, too, could be problems from coming federal safety rules that will require vaccinations for federal workers and contractors. Up in the air, too, is the loss of federal Medicaid and Medicare money should hospitals choose to follow state rather than federal law.
Earlier in the House session today, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd ruled non-germane SB 730 by Sen. Trent Garner to qualify any fired worker for unemployment benefits. Shepherd’s ruling was contested by Rep. Gayla McKenzie, but his ruling was upheld by a vote of the House. Garner’s bill made no reference to the distribution of federal pandemic relief money as the Bryant bill does. That qualified it for consideration under the resolution that allowed a recess of the legislature primarily to wait for Census data to complete congressional redistricting. It was supposed to be a three-day cruise. It’s turned into the legislative version of Gilligan’s Island.