JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Bills that would prevent government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations and requiring private employers to grant religious exemptions continued to face setbacks from business associations on Wednesday.
But the business groups and health associations that testified against the bills during a hearing by the Missouri Senate Committee on Trade, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment said they are the “most reasonable” out of the many proposals submitted this session aimed at to push back vaccine requirements.
“We believe employers have had the long legal right to require vaccines in the workplace,” said Kara Corches, lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Our position on this is pretty simple: Let the company decide.”
A bill sponsored by rep. Bill Hardwick, R-Waynesville, would prevent public authorities, including state and school districts, from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine, attaching “any personal right” or service to a person’s vaccination status, or imposing fines, taxes or criminal or civil penalties based on whether anyone has received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The bill would provide exemptions for health care providers such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as universities subject to federal vaccine requirements issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Hardwick said his bill seeks to address a “freedom clash” between companies ‘right to make decisions about who they work with and to be free from government interference and individuals’ right to make medical decisions about what goes in. in their body.
A bill sponsored by rep. David Evans, of the R-West Plains, would decide that employers should make “reasonable adjustments” to employees who have sincerely had religious beliefs that prevent them from taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hardwick’s bill will also exempt employees from being required to receive “medical treatments” broader than just COVID-19 as a condition of employment if it violates religious beliefs or for medical reasons. Both bills would allow employees to be eligible to receive work injury compensation if they sustained injuries as a result of their employer’s medical claims.
Both bills were passed by Parliament last month, and many of the groups that testified against them on Wednesday opposed the bills in a January hearing.
Debate and testimony
Ray McCarty, president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Missouri, said most employers already recognize religious and medical exemptions for vaccine mandates.
“We believe employers need to be able to set the rules in their own workplace,” McCarty said, testifying against both bills.
Late. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit and chairman of the committee, said companies have stressed to him that they do not “make us choose between violating federal law or state law.”
“They do not want to be there. They do not even want to deal with this,” Cierpiot said. “They just want to do what they do.”
Late. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, argued that COVID-19 is now “a ubiquitous virus” and that individuals retain their rights in the workplace.
“They do not become serfs. They will not become slaves, ”Onder said. “They do not become the property of their employer.”
Shannon Cooper, a lobbyist who testifies in opposition on behalf of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said corporate policies are often dictated by the workforce, especially as employers struggle to fill vacancies in the midst of the pandemic.
“Our employees are our most valuable asset we have,” Cooper said, “and we do not take their concerns lightly.”
While the bills set out exceptions for employees who oppose the vaccine, Senator Karla May, D-St. Louis, lined up what protections would be in place for others.
“What about the employee who has sensitive health issues and they are worried? What protection is in place for them?” May said, adding later, “We need to protect employees both ways.”
Evans said “it’s a balancing act” and that employers cannot ignore one’s religious rights in favor of another’s rights.
An amendment added to Evans’ bill on the floor of the house will also prevent hospitals and physicians from considering a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status when weighing whether they are eligible to receive or donate an organ for transplantation.
Heidi Geisbuhler Sutherland, Missouri State Medical Association’s director of government relations, said she was not aware that patients were denied transplants in Missouri, but noted that at the Medical University of South Carolina, 23 patients were set to be removed from a transplant waiting list. for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
No action was taken on any of the bills during Wednesday’s hearing.