Two Senate-passed bills aimed at discouraging vaccine mandates by private business and rewarding those who refuse vaccinations were on the agenda in the House Public Health Committee today.

The first failed on a roll call vote. I think I counted nine in support, with 11 needed. The second, identical to a House bill endorsed by this committee previously, was approved and sent to the House floor.

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The bill that failed, SB 732 by Sen. Blake Johnson, prohibits “coercion” by employers and provides money, should some become available, to pay people who lost jobs. State officials said this could cost significant expenditures by the state; that it could imperil state facilities that received millions in Medicaid money, and that federal law likely prevents use of federal money to pay benefits.

The business lobby said it was government overreach into how businesses operate.

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The committee heard more from the same speakers who’ve argued before that vaccination rules limit freedom and infringe on religious liberty. They also question the value of the vaccine. The invocation of “right to choose” was ironic, given other legislative action in recent years.

Opponents noted the bill doesn’t have an emergency clause, meaning it wouldn’t take effect for three months. There were concerns about ambiguous language.

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Approved by the committee was SB 739 by Sen. Kim Hammer to provide exceptions to vaccine requirements and also opens the door to unemployment benefit claims by those who lose jobs for failure to comply. It also allows payments to workers should money be available. It also lacks an emergency clause.

Hammer’s bill is identical to a House bill approved by this committee earlier, but which has not been taken up on the House floor. So far, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd has filed COVID legislation isn’t germane to the reconvened legislative session. He said the only topic to be considered is congressional redistricting. The House can vote to override that ruling and may take up that issue today.

Debate was limited given that an identical bill had been approved earlier. The state Health Department objected to the bill, including the antibody test for proof of immunity. The bill requires one every six months. It’s unclear if that’s often enough, the department said. The bill also may create conflicts for hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid money. And they said businesses should be allowed to set rules to protect their workers and customers.

The Hammer bill was approved on a voice vote. No one requested a roll call.

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