SALT LAKE CITY — A bill being considered in the Utah State Legislature would block state and local governments from imposing vaccine mandates.
Its sponsor, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said right now there is nothing legally stopping the governor or any mayor in Utah from issuing a requirement.
"They could go door-to-door and say you have to be vaccinated. Right now that is legal," he said in an interview with FOX 13.
Rep. Spendlove's legislation is the latest to push back on vaccine mandates. He previously passed a bill that blocked government from mandating the "emergency" COVID-19 vaccine that expired once it was FDA approved. The legislature also passed a bill granting some exemptions to employees of private businesses that have imposed COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
"In public policy, we’re always balancing freedom and safety and we are trying to find the right balance," Rep. Spendlove said.
He told FOX 13 his bill would not apply to schools, which do have vaccine requirements (with exemptions for religious, medical or personal reasons) for things like measles, polio and hepatitis. But it would apply to all vaccines, not just the ones for COVID-19.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has jumped into a series of lawsuits challenging the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a split ruling on a lawsuit blocking vaccine mandates of health care workers involving institutions that get federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars. The court rejected a request to impose it nationwide, applying it only to the 14 states that sued (including Utah).
On Thursday, Governor Spencer Cox said he agreed with the ruling.
"We’re desperate to get as many people vaccinated as possible and government has a role to play. But the way the president has done this, I believe, is unconstitutional," he told reporters at his monthly news conference. "The 5th Circuit has agreed with that and there are several lawsuits that are moving forward."
Gov. Cox has pushed Utahns to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots. On Thursday, he said he and First Lady Abby Cox both had their boosters. The governor noted that while COVID-19 cases are declining right now, he was worried about a holiday surge. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among unvaccinated people.
"It’s never fun in the ICU, it’s even worse during Christmas time," Gov. Cox said.
Asked by FOX 13 about the bill being considered, Gov. Cox signaled that he may not support it. He pointed to compromise legislation he signed on vaccine requirements earlier this year.
"I feel comfortable with where we are now," the governor said.
When FOX 13 pressed if supports an expansion, the governor replied: "I don’t. I think we’ve hit the right balance here."
Rep. Spendlove cautioned his bill is still under consideration.
"I don’t know exactly where the bill’s going to go. I don’t have a specific end point in mind," he said. "I'm not trying to ban all vaccines all the time. But this is an area that I think we need to have that discussion. We need to have that public policy debate."