House Republicans advance vaccine exemptions

MONTGOMERY (Ala.) -- Thursday's legislation was introduced by the Alabama House of Representatives to prohibit companies from firing employees who claim a religious exemption or medical exemption to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. There were opposing views as to whether or not the measure would be a job killer or a job protect measure.

House Republicans advance vaccine exemptions

MONTGOMERY (Ala.) -- Thursday's legislation was introduced by the Alabama House of Representatives to prohibit companies from firing employees who claim a religious exemption or medical exemption to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. There were opposing views as to whether or not the measure would be a job killer or a job protect measure.

Republicans claimed they were responding to constituents who fear losing their jobs if they don't get vaccinated. Democrats claimed that the bill would put at risk both federal contractors and the public health, in order to score political points.

In a vote that was not in the best interest of either party, the House of Representatives voted for the bill 67 to 23. The bill now goes to the Alabama Senate, where lawmakers will decide whether they accept House amendments or send it to conference committee.

Employers must exempt employees form the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, according to a Republican-sponsored bill. If workers return a new standard state form to request a religious or medical exemption, they will be exempt. The employee would be asked to check the box indicating why they were unable to get vaccinated. This could include a religious reason, qualifying medical conditions, or a signed recommendation from a healthcare provider. The exemption would not be verified by any other means.

"They are afraid of losing the jobs they have had for 20 years," said Republican Rep. Mike Jones from Andalusia. Jones also stated that some people are "truly scared of the vaccine."

Jones stated that they wanted to find a way for employees to be protected from getting vaccinated while not affecting federal contractors who have a federal mandate to vaccinate their workers. Anthony Daniels, House Minority Leader, argued that the bill would interfere with companies' ability to comply with federal mandates.

Daniels said that he is angry because it is a job-killer, pointing out that many jobs are provided by federal contractors in and around Huntsville.

"You cannot claim that you are pro-business by introducing this piece legislation."

Others argued that the GOP proposal would allow anyone to apply for an exemption from the vaccination mandate, even if they don't have a valid reason.

Democratic Rep. Pebblin Warren stated, "You know and you know, everyone, even atheists, is going to come out and say it's due to their religious beliefs."

The bill allows for several medical conditions such as blood thinners, which would allow an employee to be exempt from the vaccine mandate. The bill would not require proof of religious beliefs or medical condition. A worker denied exemption can appeal to the state Department of Labor.

This proposal allows employers to fire employees at will. It is a break from the existing law. It is clear that the bill would not affect an employer's ability to fire an employee for reasons other then the employee's COVID-19 status.

As many Republican leaders across the country try to fight the federal vaccine mandate that they consider an infringement of personal liberties, this legislation is being introduced. A business group opposed the bill, claiming it would place federal contractors in a difficult position.

According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, Alabama has had at least 15,629 deaths from COVID-19. It also has the second highest per capita COVID-19 death rate.

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