Utah officials oppose vaccination mandate in capitol, court

One of the issues that lawmakers will discuss when they convene in a special session Tuesday will be ways to oppose President Joe Biden's recently announced COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

SALT LAKE CITY – After weeks of tough talk about federal vaccine mandates, the next few days will prove whether Utah lawmakers will take action to match their rhetoric.

In his proclamation calling Utah’s 64th Legislature into its second special session, Gov. Spencer Cox instructed lawmakers to “consider provisions related to COVID-19 and the workplace.”

That special session will begin Tuesday, less than a week after the Biden administration released its long-awaited vaccine requirement.

That ruling, issued Nov. 4 by the U.S. Department of Labor through its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), ordered businesses with 100 or more employees to institute mandatory vaccinations for their workers or weekly COVID-19 testing protocols not layer than Jan. 4, 2022.

Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson responded to that announcement by condemning the federal policy.

“The (coronavirus) vaccines are a miracle of science and represent the best way to end the pandemic,” they acknowledged in a joint statement issued on Nov. 4. “But a federal mandate is heavy-handed overreach that will harden vaccine resistance and polarization.

“Workplace vaccination and testing policies should remain firmly the prerogative of business owners. We’re committed to fighting the (Biden) mandate through every possible avenue.”

Those “avenues” appear to include action by the state Legislature and litigation in federal courts.

In late October, seven GOP state officials joined one of numerous federal lawsuits opposing President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. That lawsuit was originally filed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and has since garnered numerous additional plaintiffs.

Those new parties to that suit in the Fifth Circuit Count of Appeals from Utah include Cox, Henderson, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, State Auditor John Dougall and State Treasurer Marlo M. Oaks.

“We cannot stand idly by and allow President Biden and his administration to impose yet another reckless and illegal executive action,” those Utah officials said in a joint statement.

“We must take a stand for hardworking Utahns who are being forced to either get the vaccine or lose their jobs. The president is making a habit out of reaching beyond the limits of his authority. In doing so, he is unnecessarily exacerbating stress on the supply chain, damaging the economy, forcing workers to leave their jobs and hurting American families.”

Democrats attempting to defend the Biden mandate are essentially arguing that “the ends justify the means.” They cite the beneficial impact of self-imposed mandates in the airline, food processing and healthcare industries where vaccination rates jumped to near 95 percent and higher under similar policies.

But those arguments have apparently fallen on deaf ears in one federal court – at least temporarily.

On Nov. 6, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling suspending the Biden mandate. Those justices wrote that there was “cause to believe that there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.”

The ruling is only temporary, however, while the appeals court conducts a judicial review of those issues.

While awaiting that review and any subsequent action by the Legislature, state officials continue to strongly encourage Utahns to voluntarily get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones and the hospital capacity that the state depends upon.

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