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Utah Senate passes bill on Wednesday allowing exemptions from vaccine mandate

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Adam Torkildson | Lehi Free Press

Wednesday’s Utah Senate vote approved a bill that would provide protection for employees from President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 workplace requirements.

“This was being worked upon long before the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration issued the emergency temporary standard by Biden,” said Kirk Cullimore, R. Draper. He noted that the order had been stayed last Wednesday due to a court challenge. “Officially, that made it more complicated, and we were still waiting to see what that order would look like.”

Cullimore stated that lawmakers try to predict possible outcomes of litigation.

Employees have the right to be exempt from vaccine mandates according to the bill. It is similar to exemptions available in public and higher education. Exemptions are available for personal, religious or medical reasons.

The Senate passed the bill 21-6 and supported by Republicans. It now awaits a vote by the Utah House.

After concerns were raised by some legislators about the bill’s impact on some employers which need to comply with federal requirements, the Senate amended the bill to include an exemption for Medicare or Medicaid certified suppliers or providers, and federal contractors.

Cullimore stated that the bill allows small businesses to be exempted “if they can show a vaccine-related requirement for those particular job tasks.” Cullimore responded to businesses by adding a clause to the bill that allows businesses to reassign employees when it is reasonable if they are unable to do their job without being vaccinated. This will not be considered as an “adverse response” to non-vaccinated employees.

Cullimore said, “If there’s no reassignment or it’s impossible, then it wouldn’t be deemed an adverse action to take any other recourse.”

Senator Kathleen Riebe (D-Cottonwood Heights) questioned the importance of the bill and asked whether anyone can be fired in Utah for any reason under current law.

Cullimore acknowledged Utah is a “right-to-work” state that allows businesses to fire employees for any reason. He described the bill as an “imperfect solution” but said that there would be ongoing discussions on the matter.

Riebe stated that the state was always an “at-will” state and questioned whether the bill would change this.

Senator Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake City) questioned whether the bill included a way to be repealed in case it caused privacy issues for OSHA employees.

Failure to follow federal mandates could lead to the federal government taking over OSHA law enforcement.

Cullimore stated that the intent and understanding of this bill are fluid. However, it solves a large portion of the problem now according to Cullimore. He also said that there will likely be work on the bill in the general session.

OSHA issued the rule last Thursday requiring employers with 100 or more employees to make sure that each worker is fully vaccinated. January 4th is the deadline to comply. Companies that fail to comply could face a fine of nearly $14,000 for each violation.

Friday’s petition by Utah and four other states asking for a review of Biden’s vaccination rules was joined by Texas. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (a Republican) represented Utah in the lawsuit. He said that the state was challenging the president’s mandate to protect Utahns against what he called an “egregious, unprecedented” federal exercise of power.

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