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SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee advanced a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on immunity status, potentially giving immunity the same protected status as race, color, sex, pregnancy, religion, ancestry and national origin.
HB60, sponsored by Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, would ban the use of vaccine passports and would make it illegal for employers to require proof of vaccination, with a few exemptions for health care and other industries. It also restricts government entities from imposing vaccine mandates on citizens.
"It rubs me wrong that in America we have to show papers everywhere we go," Brooks told the House Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday.
The bill would still allow employers to ask employees about their vaccination or immunity status, but it would prevent them from requiring proof of vaccination. Businesses could still require masks or proof of negative tests for employees and customers.
Last month, the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-test rule for businesses with 100 or more employees.
The committee debated adding an amendment to the bill to allow businesses to continue to set their own requirements for customers, as some committee members argued that businesses should have the right to deny entry based on vaccination status or other criteria.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, compared it to a "No shoes, no shirt, no service" policy, and Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, called the bill a "violation of choice."
It rubs me wrong that in America we have to show papers everywhere we go.
–Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George
"I'm talking about the choice of a business in the moment to decide what they think is right. ... We allow them to get it wrong, even if we disagree with it because we know they're trying to balance the competing rights," Hawkes said. "I really hate that we step in and we're going to force that business, we're going to invalidate that balance. That doesn't feel like conservative government — small government — to me. That feels like micromanaging private relationships."
The amendment ultimately failed — Brooks argued that it would go against the intended spirit of the bill — and the bill that was recommended would prohibit businesses from having a vaccine requirement for customers.
Scores of citizens showed up to comment on the bill — so many that Capitol staff opened four separate overflow rooms to accommodate them all. Most spoke in favor of the bill, calling COVID-19 restrictions government overreach and a violation of individual rights.
"What I've seen the last 23 months since this has happened is an extreme overstep from the federal government side into my business ... requiring me to have, you know, potential to have medical procedures as a condition of employment, making employers the medical enforcers or terminating them. That's not my role as an employer," said Craig Madsen, president and CEO of J&M Steel in Lehi.
I've heard a lot of complaints and frustration about tax increases and government regulation and I just wanted to remind everyone that what we're doing here today, asking this bill to go forward, is asking for more regulation.
Some who opposed the bill called it hypocritical for the government to step in and tell businesses what to do.
"I've heard a lot of complaints and frustration about tax increases and government regulation and I just wanted to remind everyone that what we're doing here today, asking this bill to go forward, is asking for more regulation," said Ross Page. "I'm absolutely against this bill. I don't think we need the government to step in here. I think it's actually a bit two-faced to stand up and say you don't like tax and then asking for more and asking for the government to create more laws."
The committee recommended HB60 with a 9-4 vote, but there could be a few adjustments before it hits the House floor.
During the debate, Thurston pointed out that the exemptions seemed only to apply to government hospitals and health care facilities. Brooks assured him that private hospitals would be covered, but agreed to work on amendments to make sure that those hospitals could still enact vaccine requirements in order to protect patients and staff.