CHARLESton, WA (NWN) – A bill to limit their ability to require West Virginia employers to vaccinate workers against the coronavirus was passed by the House of Delegates on Friday.
The proposal, which would allow some medical and religious exemptions to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, passed Republican-led Chamber 68-30 with two delegates absent. It is pending in the Senate.
Businesses and state government agencies have been included in the bill. Employers will be prohibited from penalizing or discriminating against current or potential employees for pursuing exemptions.
Governor Jim Justice added the bill to a special session of the Legislature this week.
Justice, a Republican, lifted an earlier indoor mask mandate in June. While he remains adamant that residents get their COVID-19 shots in a state that has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country by population, he opposes any new masks or vaccine mandates.
Speaking about the bill at a regular press conference on the pandemic on Friday, Justice said, “I do not believe that we really and truly should be throwing our liberties and our rights in the dustbin.”
Dozens of businesses, including hospitals, banks and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, have told lawmakers that they strongly oppose the bill.
West Virginia University Health System, the state’s largest private employer, is requiring its more than 20,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by October 31. And Friday’s deadline expired for Charleston Area Medical Center’s nearly 8,000 employees to provide COVID-19 vaccine documentation.
Under the bill, a doctor or nurse can provide signed documents that the employee’s physical condition is preventing them from safely receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, or the worker has recovered from COVID-19 and can show that their Have antibodies to the virus. The employee may also present a notarized certification for religious exemption to his employer.
“I’m here because I believe in personal choice and individual freedom,” said Raleigh County Republican Brandon Steele, chairman of the House Government Organization Committee.
Holding his COVID-19 vaccine card, Steele said, “It’s about being free to do your job, to raise your family, and not be subject to anyone who is running into you and saying, ‘Where are your papers?’ This is not the America I want to live in. The America I want to live in, I can just drop this card straight into the trash.
“And if my employer needs something, fine. You may still need it. But you are going to recognize these exemptions. They are valid and they exist.”
Kanawha County Democrat Doug Scaf, who owns several businesses, said the bill tells employers how to do their jobs.
“We want to make this a business-friendly state,” Skaff said. “Get the government out of the way and let us run our business. This bill does the opposite.”
Many other states are considering Anti-Mandate Bill GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting any entity, including private business, from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on workers.
More than 4,100 people have died from the virus in West Virginia since the start of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia, Idaho and Wyoming have the lowest percentage of residents who are not fully vaccinated.
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