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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's legislative leaders want Gov. Spencer Cox to reject President Joe Biden's proposed COVID-19 vaccine requirements for businesses and say they fully support the multistate legal effort to combat the "mandate."
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, issued a joint statement on Friday criticizing Biden's vaccination plan for large companies, accusing the president of overstepping his power.
"The President's unilateral decision to force American businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of employment grossly exceeds his authority. Not only is this mandate contrary to his previous promises, but this declaration violates the principles and processes that are the bedrock of good government. As elected officials, we will not turn a blind eye to this power grab and will do our part to uphold the principles of separation of powers and individual liberty," Adams and Wilson said in a prepared statement.
"We reaffirm our continued support for the vaccination effort. Vaccines have proven to be the most effective measure we can take to reduce the strain on our hospitals and save lives. However, requiring employers to force these decisions upon their employees is not the proper role of government and should not become the new precedent."
If Biden's proposed vaccination plan is implemented, it would require employees of large companies with 100 employees or more to either get a COVID-19 shot, submit to weekly testing or be fired. All federal workers would also be required to get the shot.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don't comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
Adams and Wilson also on Friday sent a letter to the governor saying they're "committed and more than willing to work with you," as well as the Utah Labor Commission and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, to "implement alternate policies to encourage vaccinations while protecting the ideals of limited government."
"We have asked our legal counsel to develop potential policy options, which we would be happy to discuss," the letter to Cox states.
Later Friday, Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson's office issued a statement saying they "stand united" with legislative leadership's stance against the "egregious federal mandates." Cox and Henderson signed on to the joint statement issued by Wilson and Adams.
Cox last week issued a statement saying while he supports efforts "that encourage vaccinations" — calling getting vaccinated the "single most important thing people can do right now to protect ourselves and our community" — he also said his administration has "serious concerns about the legality of the order."
Wilson and Adams' letter comes the day after Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes along with two dozen other Republican attorneys general sent a letter to the president warning that a lawsuit will follow implementation of the proposed requirement. Reyes, announcing he'd joined the effort, called Biden's plan "disastrous."
Wilson and Adams' letter also comes after the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature's House and Senate majority caucuses met this week and took official positions to support Reyes "as he works with other states to pursue legal action against the federal government," encourage Cox to "reject" the new OSHA requirements and prepare "to respond quickly with legislation once an official rule is released."
Legislative leaders also plan to schedule a special Business and Labor Interim Committee hearing to "gather feedback from affected employers and employees," according to Friday's news release.
It would be up to Cox to decide whether he calls a special session to tackle legislation to combat Biden's vaccine requirement. Under Utah law, the Utah Legislature can call itself into its own special session to pass legislation, but only in emergency situations.
The Utah Legislature is expected to hold a special session this fall to tackle the state's redistricting process, but that's not slated until sometime in November.