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Bill would block Utah employers from mandating vaccines

Posted at 3:29 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 23:02:33-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — A new bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature would block employers from mandating vaccines or any other health care procedure on their employees.

LINKS: How to register for a COVID-19 vaccination in Utah

Senate Bill 208, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, is already raising concerns among some business groups. But he told FOX 13 the bill is a response to constituents who have already been threatened with job losses over COVID-19 restrictions.

"Their livelihoods are being threatened. They’re going to be fired if they don’t wear the mask, and now we’ve got the implementation of the COVID vaccine," Sen. Kennedy said.

Sen. Kennedy said the bill requires employers to provide a "reasonable accommodation" for an employee who chooses not to get vaccinated.

"This bill merely puts into statute the protections that the Americans with Disabilities Act already affords us, but sadly, in some cases, employers are not respecting," he said.

READ: Cox announces Utahns 65+ can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine

The bill does exclude hospitals, health agencies and health care companies that have long mandated vaccines for their employees. Sen. Kennedy, who is a physician and chairs the powerful Senate Health & Human Services Committee, said he does see concerns about intruding on the rights of private companies and that an un-vaccinated employee might bring something to the workplace.

"We want them to be able to keep not only the employee, but the public safe," he told FOX 13. "But what we’re asking for is just reasonable accommodations. What it says is, you cannot infringe on this employee’s right to direct their own health care."

The Salt Lake Chamber, the state's largest business organization, said it had concerns about the bill and was reviewing it.

Another bill in the Utah House of Representatives would prohibit government from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. House Bill 308 is sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy. At his monthly news conference on PBS, Governor Spencer Cox said he was watching both bills.

"We’re still having conversations about those bills directly, but I also want to be clear: it has never been the intention of government, nor will it, to mandate vaccinations," he said.

Gov. Cox has pushed for Utahns to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is offered to them to achieve "herd immunity" and to be able to lift health restrictions in place.

Late Thursday, a bill was introduced in the legislature that would prohibit businesses from discriminating against those who choose to not get the COVID-19 vaccine. Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, has introduced House Bill 384, which states that places of public accommodation cannot ask someone's vaccine status, nor refuse service to those who are unvaccinated.