SALT LAKE CITY — More than a hundred people showed up at a hearing on Capitol Hill to push for the legislature to ban businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.
"There is a myth that if we can just get employers to vaccinate employees we will end the pandemic," said Kristen Chevrier with a group called Utah Open for Business.
She urged the Utah State Legislature's Health & Human Services Committee to take action to prevent businesses from issuing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, arguing it will cripple Utah's economy.
"What will the impact be on an already struggling economy, on public safety and public health if we suddenly have 30% of the workforce including medical care providers and first responders unemployed?" Chevrier said, referring to unvaccinated people.
The Biden administration recently required businesses with more than 100 employees be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly under federal occupational safety rules. He has also mandated that federal contractors get vaccinated.
But some in the crowd who spoke to the Health & Human Services committee tried to argue it would apply to small businesses and even their customers — even though it does not. When Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost pointed out to the crowd she didn't believe it would go to that extreme, the crowd jeered her, prompting committee co-chair Sen. Mike Kennedy to call for decorum.
Ahead of the presentation, a large number of people tried to get into the committee room. The Utah Highway Patrol tried to stop them at the House building doors because of overcrowding. Some shouted "I'm a taxpayer" and demanded to be let in.
It's unclear if there will even be a bill in the legislature to prevent businesses from requiring vaccination.
"Are we actually talking about a bill file and is there one?" said Rep. Dailey-Provost, asking her colleagues if anyone had opened a bill.
"We are not specifically talking about a bill, we are talking about a concept," Sen. Kennedy, R-Alpine, responded.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, told the crowd that he was glad to see them show up to speak their mind and noted the "pent up frustration" that people have felt about COVID-19 restrictions. While sympathetic, he said he wasn't sure how far the state could get against the federal government.
"The president is completely outside his constitutional authority to go and mandate these issues and whatever we can do on a state level," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who also questioned whether intensive care units were really full.
Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, said she just finished a week-long shift in an intensive care unit with COVID-19 patients.
"This is real," she told the crowd. "We are in a crisis."
When Rep. Harrison tried to tell people to get information about vaccines "from reputable sources like your doctor," she was mocked and jeered by some in the crowd.
Once again, Sen. Kennedy interjected to call for order.
"It was really disheartening to hear people mocking and laughing when I was talking about the reality of what is happening in our ICUs and that patients are dying," Rep. Harrison told FOX 13 afterward. "I really worry the amount of misinformation and distrust in our community is going to break us at some point."
No one on the committee would say if they are running a bill to ban businesses from mandating vaccines, nor did the Health & Human Services Interim Committee take action. Any bill that would be considered won't happen until the 2022 legislative session that begins in January.