By Corinne Murdock |
On Wednesday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to rescind its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, as well as its $45 monthly penalty for unvaccinated employees. The board mentioned but didn’t vote on rehiring those fired for not getting vaccinated, with backpay, as well as reimbursing those who paid the penalty for not getting vaccinated.
Although the board rolled back its punitive measures for COVID-19 compliance, it implemented a reward for obedient county employees: 16 hours of paid time off (PTO) every year for those who stay up to date with their COVID-19 booster shots.
During Wednesday’s meeting, most of the board were reluctant to drop the vaccine mandate and $45 penalty. Only two supervisors, Grijalva and Matt Heinz, opposed rolling back the vaccine mandate. Heinz said that the county should sue the state. Bronson responded sarcastically that Heinz’s suggestion was a “good way to spend taxpayer dollars.”
Only Supervisor Steve Christy opposed the PTO, arguing that individuals shouldn’t be paid for receiving voluntary medical treatment. Christy noted that the county didn’t conduct a cost analysis. Supervisor Sharon Bronson shared Christy’s concern about the cost to the county, though she voted for the PTO. She questioned the efficacy of a yearly booster, and contended that the county didn’t offer an equal incentive for annual flu shots.
The board’s decision came five days before a new state law, HB2498, goes into effect prohibiting vaccine mandates for local government employees.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said that the new state law constitutes an overreach. Grijalva insisted that their county’s COVID-19 mandates worked to curb COVID-19 infections and deaths.
“I guess, go ahead and follow the law in this situation,” said Grijalva.
Supervisor Rex Scott concurred with Grijalva. He suggested that the county take next steps through the County Supervisors Association of Arizona (CSA) Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) to increase their power and authority.
“It is not just Pima County that has concerns about moves made by the legislature and governor to restrict our statutory authority as the public health authority,” said Scott.
Bronson agreed, inferring that CSA was their best option for adjusting the balance of power between county and state. Bronson referred to the ongoing issue over the vaccine mandate as “drama.”
The county first issued its vaccine mandate last August. Then last September, they issued a $45 monthly penalty for unvaccinated employees in the form of a health insurance premium surcharge. Only employees with a medical or religious exemption were excluded from the surcharge. In all, 236 employees paid that penalty.
In April, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB2498 into law, which prohibited local governments from mandating their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite the inevitable unlawfulness of their mandate, the board decided in May to continue its vaccine mandate for new hires and promotions up until HB2498 went into effect.
Last month, Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the county over the vaccine mandate: State of Arizona v. City of Tucson (CV2022-011416 in the Maricopa County Superior Court). The last action on that case took place on September 3, with a motion for compulsory arbitration.
Overall, the county received 284 medical or religious exemption requests for the COVID-19 vaccine: 257 religious, 27 medical.
The county granted 149 religious accommodations; 70 were incomplete, 19 were denied. Of the 27 medical exemption requests, the county granted 26; the one denial was due to a rescission of an offer of employment.
Watch the Pima County Board of Supervisors discuss the COVID-19 mandate below: