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Utah legislature may look at carving exceptions into business COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Posted at 4:25 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 19:09:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature may look at carving exceptions into any COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by a private business.

In an interview with FOX 13, House Speaker Brad Wilson confirmed the idea was under consideration. House Republicans on Wednesday met in their regular caucus to discuss COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Political leaders on Utah's Capitol Hill are waiting to see what the Biden administration says with its proposed occupational safety rule imposing a vaccine or testing mandate on businesses with more than 100 employees. The state has threatened a lawsuit or refusal to comply.

"We do have grave concerns about the problem that this rule, as described to us by the president, will create for Utahns and our economy and businesses here and we think it needs to be worked through differently," Speaker Wilson, R-Kaysville, said.

While they have opposed government vaccine mandates, some political leaders — including Speaker Wilson — have supported the rights of a private business to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. But the Speaker signaled that stance may be changing.

"On one hand, we're saying we don’t want the federal government to create mandates, on the other hand we've got to be very careful about how we deal with mandates. There are times when sometimes employers can do things that maybe cross a line with their employee-employer relationship," he said. "So we’re going to monitor it. It’s probably the best way do describe it at this point."

Added House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper: "If a business does decide to mandate it, it’s certainly their right and their option. However, I think the employee has some rights as well. I think the state ought to have some exemptions."

The idea of carving exceptions into any private business vaccine mandate could be an option. A number of legislators are opening bills with subject lines about vaccine mandates. Lawmakers have faced pressure from anti-vaccine constituents to take action and block any mandates.

"Obviously, we’re against any mandates coming down from the federal government, vaccine mandates, but our hope is there’s exemptions in there," said Rep. Schultz. "Personal, medical, and religious exemptions in there that ultimately give the employee and the citizens of our state the ability to have that choice."

Utah law currently does allow for personal, religious or medical vaccine exemptions. However, some religions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have said they will refuse to grant them.

Some of those bills the legislature may take up could hit a roadblock at Governor Spencer Cox's desk. While also speaking against government mandating the COVID-19 vaccine, he has repeatedly defended the rights of private businesses to impose vaccine requirements.

"That’s their right to do so and we applaud the marketplace making those decisions," the governor said at a news conference on Sept. 30.

Asked by FOX 13 if a bill blocking mandates by private businesses was "dead on arrival," the governor bluntly replied: "Yes."

House Republican leaders said they do not oppose vaccines, and encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine to end the pandemic.

"I would never mandate my employees have the vaccine. I’ve encouraged them to, I’m actually incentivizing my employees to get the vaccine," Speaker Wilson said of his own business . "I would hope most businesses don’t jump the gun on this in this state and mandate a vaccine if there’s other options."