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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of unmasked, anti-vaccine mandate Utahns packed into a committee room on Utah's Capitol Hill early Monday, spilling into an overflow room, to tell lawmakers to fight President Joe Biden's vaccine requirements for large employers.
Utah lawmakers held the special Business and Labor Interim Committee hearing to discuss and take input on the proposed emergency rule to which Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, legislative leaders and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes have expressed clear opposition.
I'm here at the PACKED Business and Labor committee meeting where #Utah lawmakers are taking public comment on @POTUS's employer vaccine requirements. Hundreds are here, filling this room to capacity and into overflow #utpol#utlegpic.twitter.com/XrrIi9k2Dc— Katie McKellar (@KatieMcKellar1) October 4, 2021
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, committee chairman, said an estimated 600 to 700 people attended the hearing, an unheard of turnout. That's in addition to over 230 who tuned in to the meeting online.
"I don't believe we've ever seen anything like this," he said.
At the beginning of the hearing, Bramble asked how many attendees had come to express support for the rule, to which no hands were raised. When he asked how many were there in opposition, practically every hand shot into the air.
Most, if not all, those who came to protest Biden's rule were unmasked. Outside of the House building on the Utah Capitol campus where the hearing was being held, several anti-mandate signs lined the sidewalk. Some read, "My body my choice" and "We want freedom to choose!"
Conservatives in Utah and across the nation continue to grapple with Biden's plan to require employers with 100 or more employees to either require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine 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 an estimated 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don't comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
In Utah, legislative leaders have said they're bracing for a possible special session in October in an attempt to tackle the president's large employer vaccination requirements, though what a possible Utah legislative solution looks like is unclear.
Reyes is among a group of state attorneys general poised to take legal action when the vaccine rules become official.
Last month, a vocal group opposed to Biden's vaccine mandate flooded the Utah Legislature's Health and Human Services Interim Committee to urge lawmakers to pass legislation protecting businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated.
Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox said he supports businesses in their decisions on whether or not to require their employees to get COVID-19 vaccines, but he would not support a bill to ban businesses from requiring them. When asked by a reporter if a bill banning the mandates would be "dead on arrival" at his desk, the governor gave a firm, one-word answer: "Yes."
It's not clear, however, whether a Utah lawmaker will indeed run a bill to ban businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.
Earlier this year, Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, sponsored a bill that would have banned private businesses from imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The legislation, SB208, won approval from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, passed an initial vote from the full Senate on a 17-11 vote, but never received the final vote it needed to clear the Senate.
Currently, Utah officials are waiting for the details of the Biden rule, which OSHA would issue in the form of an emergency standard, before deciding what to do, though Reyes is poised to sue.
Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, asked if the "ramification" of Utah not adopting the rule would be the federal government "taking over our OSHA department."
"That could potentially be the final solution," said Utah Labor Commissioner Jaceson Maughan. "That is a worst case scenario but it potentially exists."
This story will be updated.