W.Va. Senate gets shot at COVID vaccine exemption bill | News, Sports, Jobs

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Courtesy Photo / Legislative Photograph of WV WARNING – Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, a respiratory doctor who has treated patients with COVID-19, has warned of the unintended consequences of passing a bill of law aimed at religious and medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines.

CHARLESTON – A bill that creates a process for workers in West Virginia to seek exemptions from workplace COVID-19 vaccination requirements was passed by the state Senate on Tuesday after more than two hours of bipartisan debate and objections.

House Bill 335, relating to COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employment in the public and private sectors, was passed by the State Senate 17-16 Tuesday afternoon with only the State Senator Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, absent. However, the bill did not get the two-thirds of the votes needed to make it effective upon passage, meaning the bill could take 90 days from its passage by the legislature to become law.

HB 335 creates a process for public and private sector employees to request medical and religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates with employers.

Workers would be able to provide certificates from a licensed health care professional stating that the employee has medical issues that prevent them from getting the vaccine or that the employee has antibodies from a previous infection. Workers would also be able to provide a notarized statement to employers claiming they have religious beliefs that prevent them from taking any of the three COVID-19 vaccines. It also allows employees to seek an injunction against employers.

A successful amendment proposed by State Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, states in the bill that if any part of the bill is found to be unconstitutional or invalid by future federal laws and rules, those federal laws and rules will not invalidate the State Law set.

“This debate is not about whether the vaccine works or not”, said Tarr, a licensed physiotherapist who owns a franchise of physiotherapy clinics in gyms. “It’s about the people of West Virginia… having personal choice in their medical decisions.”

Debate on the bill lasted more than two hours on Tuesday night, with a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic senators opposing the bill.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Mike Maroney R-Marshall accused Tarr and other Republicans of “Slyly” pushing the bill, avoiding scrutiny by his committee as well as other Senate medics, Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, and State Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone .

“We are not stopping a mandate … we are imposing a mandate on private companies … it is the biggest garbage thrown in the throats of companies since I have been in the Senate,” he added. said Maroney.

“We should be doing things to improve public health … and stop the deaths of our fellow West Virginia people,” said Stollings, a doctor from Madison. “We have lost enough West Virginia people. Let’s put that aside. It conflicts with federal laws downing the pike. Let’s try to keep our employees and our businesses safe. “

“I don’t think the bill is achieving its goal”, said Takubo, a pulmonologist who has treated numerous COVID-19 patients. “In the end, I have yet to take care of a patient who had a problem with the vaccine, but I have filled out countless death certificates from those who did not take the vaccine.”

A number of state groups representing business and the healthcare industry have spoken out against HB 335 since its introduction last week, including the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, West Virginia Hospital Association, West Virginia State Medical Association and West Virginia Business. and Industry Council.

A letter sent to lawmakers last week by the State Chamber of Commerce and signed by 36 companies and industry groups argued that HB 335 interferes with federal protections already in place for medical and religious exemptions, which it may interfere with the rules written by occupational safety. and Health Administration after President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring companies with more than 100 employees to institute vaccination warrants and that the bill interferes with employers’ rights to manage their workplaces.

Leaving the podium and taking his place in the Senate, Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, compared Biden’s vaccine mandates to “Nazi Germany,” indicating that HB 335 was required.

“I’m not telling you not to get vaccinated… and I think you should get vaccinated, but it’s a choice” Blair said. “”I think it’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany… our government uses public money to force the public to obey the state.

Another state senator, Wayne County Republican Mark Maynard, likened the refusal to act to protect West Virginia to government mandates to allowing the Holocaust to happen.

“With all the emails, personal texts and Facebook messages we have received from our constituents… this analogy reminds me of someone doing something, and this bill does something. “ said Maynard.

Speaking against the bill, State Senator Owens Brown, D-Ohio, asked why a person’s cleric gives them the right to compromise another person’s health. Brown is the head of the state’s NAACP section and a member of Governor Jim Justice’s COVID-19 task force.

“Religious freedom is not an absolute in this country”, Brown said. “You have a social pact that you sign as a people in this country, and the government looks after the general well-being of the people. It seems that by having a mandate, this government is ensuring the general well-being of this country. “

HB 335 was passed by the House of Delegates last week by 68 to 30 votes. Nine of 76 Republicans who attended last Friday’s vote joined the 22 members of the Democratic minority in opposing the bill, including Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who declined to co-sponsor the bill as is the tradition for bills introduced on behalf of a governor.

The House will resume the special session this evening at 6 p.m. to consider Senate changes to HB 335.

(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])

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