States Are Banning COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements

COVID-19 vaccinations continue across the country, Arkansas and Montana are the latest states to advance legislation or enact laws that ban certain requirements – such as vaccine passports or conditions of employment – based on inoculation status.

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, on April 28 signed into law various measures that prevent state and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of employment or to access goods and services, according to The Associated Press. The ban on requirements related to employment has some exceptions, including state-owned medical facilities.

The measure related to goods and services access is tied to the concept of “vaccine passports,” which provide proof of vaccination for activities such as traveling or attending concerts. Governors in six states – Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Texas and South Dakota – “have issued executive orders prohibiting vaccine passports/requirements in some regard,” according to James Nash, press secretary for the National Governors Association. Officials in the Joe Biden administration, however, have insisted that there aren’t plans for a federal vaccine passport system.

“Let me be clear that the government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, during an April 14 press briefing. “There’ll be no federal vaccination database, no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

Photos: COVID-19 Vaccinations

TOPSHOT - Health professional Raimunda Nonata, 70, is inoculated with the Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccine against COVID-19 inside her house becoming the first Quilombola (traditional Afro-descendent community member) to be vaccinated at the community Quilombo Marajupena, city of Cachoeira do Piria, Para state, Brazil, on January 19, 2021. - The community of Quilombo Marajupena, 260km far-away from Belem, capital of Para, doesn't have access to electricity. (Photo by TARSO SARRAF / AFP) (Photo by TARSO SARRAF/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite this commitment from federal officials, Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on April 13 issued an executive order banning the “state-sponsored development and required use of so-called vaccine passports.” The state is also close to enacting legislation advanced by its state Legislature that would prohibit employers from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment.

The bill “makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a person or governmental entity to deny services, goods, privileges, licensing, educational opportunities or employment opportunities based on vaccination status or whether someone has an immunity passport,” according to the AP. But after being advanced to Gianforte for his signature, the bill was sent back by the governor with an amendment that exempts nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the measure’s provisions and allows health care facilities “to ask employees to volunteer information about their vaccination status, to consider employees who don’t volunteer that information to be unvaccinated, and to implement policies specific to unvaccinated staff, patients and visitors that are designed to protect against the spread of communicable diseases,” according to the Montana Free Press. Both the state’s House and Senate later approved the amended bill, clearing the way for Gianforte’s final signature, the outlet reported.

Attempts to ban COVID-19 vaccine requirements are common among states. Overall, at least 32 bills have been introduced across 25 states that “would limit mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for students, employees or generally,” according to a recent memo from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Most of the measures are pending and some – including bills in Virginia and Wyoming – have failed, but one will soon become law in Utah. Starting on May 5, the state Legislature’s House Bill 308, similar to the legislation in Arkansas and Montana, will prohibit “a government entity from directly or indirectly requiring an individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use as a condition of employment or attendance at events that are hosted or sponsored by a government entity,” according to the NCSL.

Bills in a handful of states – such as Alabama, Minnesota and South Carolina – refer to a so-called COVID-19 Vaccine Bill of Rights, which “prohibits mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and prohibits businesses from requiring any person to receive COVID-19 vaccines,” the NCSL also found. Several other states have introduced legislation that aims to “prohibit mandatory vaccines generally,” says Mick Bullock, the public affairs director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But some states are going the other way on COVID-19 vaccine requirements. At least two – Hawaii and New York – have considered legislation “that would support or allow the use of coronavirus vaccine records or ‘passports’ in some capacity,” according to the NCSL. Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, on April 20 unveiled a program that allows individuals who have been fully vaccinated in the state to bypass pre-travel testing and/or quarantine requirements when traveling within the state, according to a news release. Hawaii’s state Legislature previously considered a similar measure, according to the NCSL.

Inoculation against COVID-19 continues to ramp up across America. As of April 28, at least 43% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data compiled and analyzed by USAFacts. The CDC later reported on Thursday that 30% of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated.

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