CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – A bill to restrict employers in West Virginia in their ability to require workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus was passed in the House of Delegates on Friday.
The proposal, which would allow certain medical and religious exemptions from the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, was passed in Republican-led Chamber 68-30 in the absence of two delegates. It remains pending in the Senate.
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The bill affects businesses and government agencies. Employers would be prevented from punishing or discriminating current or potential employees for using the exemptions.
Governor Jim Justice added the bill to this week’s special session of the Legislature.
Justice, a Republican, overturned a previous mandate on indoor masks in June. While he insisted that residents get their COVID-19 vaccinations in a state whose population has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, he is opposed to new mask or vaccination regulations.
At a regular pandemic press conference on Friday, Justice said of the bill: “I don’t think we should really and really throw our freedoms and rights in a trash can.”
Dozens of companies, including hospitals, banks, and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, have notified lawmakers that they are firmly against the law.
West Virginia University’s health system, the state’s largest private employer, requires its 20,000+ employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by October 31, according to Covid-19 vaccine documentation.
As part of the bill, a doctor or nurse may provide signed proof that the employee is in a physical condition that prevents them from safely receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or that the employee has recovered from COVID-19 and can show that he has antibodies against the virus. The employee can also provide his employer with a notarized certificate of religious exemption.
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“I’m here because I believe in personal choices and personal freedom,” said Brandon Steele, Republican of Raleigh County, chairman of the House Government Organizing Committee.
Steele held his COVID-19 vaccination card and said, “It’s about being free, doing your job, raising your family and not being threatened by someone who comes up to you and says, ‘Where are yours Papers?’ This is not the America I want to live in. The America I want to live in, I could throw this card straight in the trash.
“And if my employer wants to ask for something, fine. You can still ask for it. But you will recognize these exceptions. They are legitimate and exist. “
Kanawha County’s Democrat Doug Skaff, who owns multiple companies, said the bill tells employers how to do their jobs.
“We want to make this a business-friendly state,” said Skaff. “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 laws. GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott passed an executive order on Monday to ban companies, including private companies, from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate against workers.
In West Virginia, more than 4,100 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began. West Virginia, Idaho, and Wyoming have the lowest percentage of residents who are not fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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