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SALT LAKE CITY — After a tense meeting that began with some community members being removed by troopers, the Utah Senate moved a bill forward that will prohibit businesses and government from requiring vaccine passports for entry.
HB60 brought dozens Tuesday to the Senate Taxation and Revenue Committee meeting just days before the end of the session.
The bill as originally written would have also prohibited businesses from requiring vaccines. After a heated debate, the committee ultimately approved with a 7-2 vote a new version of the bill that still allows employers to require "proof of immunity status," which can include a previous infection if they have a doctor's note.
The bill awaits approval by the full Senate — as well as the House's approval of the changes — before it could become final.
As the meeting started, committee Chairman Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, warned the crowd it would need to comply with the Legislature's rules for decorum, which he said prohibit attendees from outbursts, wearing political stickers or carrying flags or signs during meetings.
"There are, just like there is everywhere you go, there are rules you live by in society. Some of them are just don't be a jerk, right? And that rule, unfortunately, seems to get violated more frequently than not on Capitol Hill," McCay said.
He said people in the room were violating rules, leading him to halt the committee for five minutes to give attendees a chance to "follow those rules."
During that break, people began shouting in the room. Troopers escorted a few people away, including a man who had removed political stickers but refused to cover a T-shirt that read "We the people."
When bill sponsor Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, began his presentation, he started off by attempting to comment on the rule prohibiting stickers or signs, and that he's "deeply disappointed."
"Representative, do not test the mettle of the chair," McCay retorted. "Please keep your comments germane to the bill."
Brooks said the bill is about prohibiting discrimination against someone because of their vaccine or medical status.
"I think it's important to note that when we're doing legislation, especially something around this, that this is not a COVID bill, but COVID has definitely brought it to the surface because of what many are seeing as an overstep," Brooks said.
He described government leaders as "overstepping" bounds by urging people during the pandemic not to celebrate Christmas with more than 10 people in their home.
"What this bill really does is go back to the way we did business before COVID," he said.
McCay contended that forcing someone to allow someone onto their property is "really uncomfortable" for him, calling it "dangerous territory."
But Brooks compared the bill to the Civil Rights Movement, saying, "We know people are created equal."
He said the unvaccinated should be a protected class.
But McCay said an unvaccinated person still has a choice about which businesses they visit.
That's not the case for some in smaller towns, Brooks argued, explaining that a town like Blanding only has two grocery stores.
During a lengthy public comment session, some people mostly from the business community spoke against the bill, but the majority of commenters supported the bill.
Elizabeth Converse, with Utah Tech Leads, called the bill "anti-business" and said as currently written it would affect other vaccines as well, causing issues.
Karen Zaya, who described herself as a nurse, said she is considered high risk due to her medical history but she supports the bill.
"No one has the right to ask me what my medical history is. This is exactly what a passport is," she said, adding that it makes her "vulnerable to discrimination."
Mark Alston, one of the owners of the Bayou — among the businesses in Utah to require customers' proof of vaccine for entry — contended that food service workers cause hundreds of foodborne illness outbreaks in the country. He expressed concern with what the bill could do to the restaurant industry.
"I'm a living woman who reserves my rights under God," said Heather Vanin, explaining that vaccine passports allow services to be "withheld" from people based on health status.
She said as a mother she's seen "a lot of things healed" without vaccines.