HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A ban on employers mandating vaccines for their workers inched ahead in the state House on Tuesday with a committee vote supported by all Republicans and opposed by every Democrat.
The main sponsor, Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, called it "a very simple question of workers' rights." Diamond has been a fervent opponent of coronavirus mitigation policies and has been publicly skeptical of mask wearing and vaccines.
Labor and Industry Committee Chairman Jim Cox, R-Berks, said lawmakers were responding to increasing reports that employers are requiring vaccines, forcing some workers to choose between the vaccine or losing a job.
An amendment by Cox took out a provision in Diamond's bill that would have ended employer-mandated tests for marijuana. Diamond said after the meeting that the marijuana testing language lacked support.
The bill would let workers or prospective workers avoid workplace mandated vaccinations by putting into writing that their doctor has concerns it might harm their health; that they have religious or "strong moral or ethical" convictions against a vaccine; that they already had COVID-19; or that they are concerned because it has not been fully approved by federal regulators.
"At the end of the day you cannot force an individual to take an experimental vaccine," said Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland.
Pennsylvanians with religious and medical concerns can opt out of vaccinations, said Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Washington, noting that hospital and business groups oppose the bill.
"Here we are today telling every business in the commonwealth what they can and cannot do," Snyder said. "This isn't about vaccines. This is about what we are trying to mandate every business in the commonwealth to do."
She noted a Texas federal judge's decision last week that threw out a lawsuit filed by employees of a Houston hospital system over its requirement that all staff be vaccinated.
"This bill isn't going to change anything because it's going to be thrown out in court," Snyder said.
Last week, the state Senate passed on party lines veto-bound legislation to prohibit so-called public-sector vaccine passports and to put limits on a state health secretary's powers when fighting a contagious disease.
That bill's prohibition on vaccine passports would apply to state agencies, counties, municipalities, school districts and universities that receive state aid, but not private businesses or organizations.
It would bar the governmental entities from requiring a proof of vaccination to use services, enter a building or engage in activities.
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