Senate To Vote On Whether Arizonans Can Be Forced To Prove Vaccination Status

Senate To Vote On Whether Arizonans Can Be Forced To Prove Vaccination Status

By Terri Jo Neff

An executive order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey is temporarily protecting Arizonans from having to reveal their COVID-19 vaccination status in order to shop, attend public events, or receive government benefits. But Ducey’s executive orders issued under the state’s emergency powers laws cannot last forever, so Rep. Bret Roberts is pushing his fellow legislators to provide ensure permanent protections.

On Thursday, Roberts will be watching as the Senate considers HB2190. The bill started out as criminal justice legislation sponsored by Roberts but later became the subject of a strike-everything amendment by Sen. Kelly Townsend to prohibit businesses and government agencies in Arizona from demanding citizens provide proof, or what is referred to as a vaccine passport, of their vaccination status.

Many communities across the country are supporting the use of a vaccine passport policy, despite what Roberts called the risk of creating “a second-class society” of people who will not -or cannot- receive the COVID-19 vaccine. HB2190 seeks to protect the rights and private medical data of Arizonans while ensuring citizens are not forced to prove their vaccine status in order to shop for groceries, enter a bank, or visit their child’s school.

According to Roberts, the bill would also prohibits the government or private businesses from seeking information about a person’s post-transmission recovery if they ever fell ill from COVID-19.

Under HB2190, a business entity, a ticket issuer, or the state, a county, or local government entity or official is prohibited from basing access to a good or service or benefit on whether a person has received a vaccine. The bill also prohibits the state, a county or local government entity or official from requiring a person to receive a vaccine.

One thing Ducey’s temporary executive order and HB2190 do not address is the employee – employer relationship. That means a boss could possibly terminate an employee who won’t, or can’t, take the COVID-19 vaccine.  Another thing HB2190 does not do is interfere with healthcare professionals who need to ask a patient’s vaccination status as a matter of public health concern.

Roberts has waited several weeks to see HB2190 get on the Senate calendar. He tweeted Wednesday evening that anyone seeking office should “give serious thought to their position” on vaccine passports.

“I could be wrong but I don’t think this…one will be forgotten,” he tweeted.

If HB2190 passes, it would make a violation of the new law a Class 3 misdemeanor. It would also allow a state court to suspend any state or local business license, permit, or certification for up to 30 days if the business violates the statute. The bill must receive at least 16 ayes from the 30 senators.


3 High-Profile Bills Set To Die If Fann Won’t Place On Calendar

3 High-Profile Bills Set To Die If Fann Won’t Place On Calendar

By Terri Jo Neff |

With the legislature expected to take up the budget package sooner than later, three high-profile bills appear to have been shelved by Senate President Karen Fann, despite growing calls for her to calendar them for a vote before the session ends.

HB2190, also known as the Vaccine Passport bill, along with SB1074 and SB1532 cleared the House and were transmitted to the Senate. But none have appeared on a Senate calendar, which is controlled by Fann.

SB1074 would prohibit state government entities, including cities and counties, from forcing employees to engage in orientation, training, or therapy that is based on a theory of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. SB1532 bans Arizona’s public schools and community colleges from discussing controversial issues unless presented in a way which addresses diverse or opposing perspectives. Both are commonly referred to as anti-Critical Race Theory legislation.

Meanwhile, HB2190 seeks to protect the rights and private medical data of Arizonans against efforts to force consumers to prove their COVID-19 vaccine status or disclose their status in order to receive government benefits.  The current version was introduced in February by Sen. Kelly Townsend and cleared the House through efforts by Rep. Bret Roberts, who has expressed frustration at the lack of action in the Senate.

“Let the Senators that want to be on the record, be on the record on this important issue!” he tweeted last week. In response, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita responded by publicly supporting a vote on HB2190.

“I would like an opportunity to cast a yes vote for this bill. Put it on the board of truth!” tweeted Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the Senate’s Government Committee.

Behind the scenes, some members of the Republican caucus point to the fact Fann allowed SCR1044 -which deals with in-state tuition for DREAMERS and others without U.S. citizenship- to go to a floor vote but has dug in her heels on bills which seek to protect Arizona workers and students.

Bills which Fann has placed on Monday’s Senate calendar involve election deadlines, instruction of the Holocaust, the impounding of vehicles by law enforcement, and advertising rules for political action committees.

Pandemic Prompted Expanded Telemedicine Use, Bill Expands Care And Codifies Pay Parity

Pandemic Prompted Expanded Telemedicine Use, Bill Expands Care And Codifies Pay Parity

By B. Hamilton

During the first months of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the use of telehealth increased significantly. In fact, overall, almost half of the people who were undergoing treatment when the pandemic shutdown began reported using some form of telemedicine.

From a new RAND Corporation study, those findings make the news of Governor Doug Ducey’s decision to sign telemedicine legislation all the more welcome to individuals still hesitant to venture out.

House Bill 2454, sponsored by Rep. Regina Cobb, will make telemedicine services provided to Arizonans through the Governor’s Executive Order last March permanent. The governor’s order required health care insurance companies to expand telemedicine coverage for all services that would normally be covered for an in-person visit.

The bill expands access to telemedicine for patients and ensures that doctors receive equal compensation from insurance companies for telemedicine services and allows out-of-state health care professionals to provide telemedicine in Arizona.

“Telehealth was an extremely valuable tool during the pandemic,” said Cobb. “It’s helped Arizonans get in contact with health care providers, mental health specialists, speech therapists, and more from the safety of their home. HB 2454 will continue those efforts and ensure that those living in Arizona receive medical service in a safe and convenient manner.”

According to findings published in the Journal of General, between mid-March and early May 2020, telehealth was used by more than 40% of patients with a chronic physical health condition and by more than 50% of those with a behavioral health condition, according to findings published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Under the bill, medical examinations in the worker’s compensation space can also be conducted via telehealth if all parties consent. It also prohibits healthcare boards from enforcing any rule that requires a patient to visit in-person before being prescribed most medications.

“HB 2454 is a win for physicians and patients alike,” said Arizona Medical Association President Dr. Miriam Anand. “Every patient deserves access to the appropriate care needed to treat their medical conditions. HB 2454 will break down unnecessary barriers to telehealth and help facilitate the delivery of high-quality care to patients across Arizona.”

HB 2454 also requires medical insurers to provide payment parity for telehealth services using audio and visual features and allows health care providers who are licensed in other states to provide telehealth services into Arizona under certain conditions.

According to the JLBC, “the bill establishes the Telehealth Advisory Committee on Telehealth Best Practices which would be tasked with recommending other health care service that may be appropriately provided through an audio-only telehealth format. These services would be covered services starting January 1, 2022 but would not require payment parity.”

The bill does not apply to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) but does require health insurers to cover audio-only health care services if those services are covered by AHCCCS or Medicare.

As Small Business Owners Struggle To Find Employees, Leaders Look To Improve Desire For Jobs

As Small Business Owners Struggle To Find Employees, Leaders Look To Improve Desire For Jobs

By B. Hamilton |

This month’s jobs numbers report, showing a dismal 266,000 jobs added last month to the nation’s economy, has not surprised small business owners. School closures, erratic school schedules in states allowing students to return to the classroom, and nonstop unemployment benefits have kept potential employees home, studies show.

Just the day before the national numbers came out, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its Jobs Report and its latest numbers confirm that there is a dearth of ready-to-work employees.

According to the NFIB report, a record 44% of all small business owners say they have job openings they could not fill, 22 points higher than the 48-year historical average, and two points higher than the 42% figure from March.

April is the third consecutive month with a record-high reading of unfilled job openings among small businesses, according to NFIB.

Even though most experts believe unemployment payments are suppressing the job pool, State Rep. David Cook of Globe has been pushing an increase in weekly benefits.

The federally-established Unemployment Insurance Benefits Program, administered by DES according to state law, provides unemployment benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own for up to 26 weeks and up to $540 per week or $2160 per month in untaxed paid benefit. During the COVID-19 crisis, beneficiaries did not have to prove they were actively looking for work.

That changed this week when Governor Ducey rescinded a March 2020 Executive Order that waived the requirement that an individual receiving employment benefits must be actively looking for work to receive the benefits.

Other governors are getting more aggressive in getting residents back to work. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, citing a workforce shortage, announced he will use funds from the American Rescue Plan to incentivize people to become employed.

“While small businesses are glad to see Gov. Doug Ducey re-instating the active work search requirement to qualify for continued state unemployment benefits, more work needs to be done to get able workers off the unemployment rolls and back into one of the many available jobs in the private sector,” said Chad Heinrich, NFIB’s Arizona state director in a press release. “With April also setting a new 12-month high in small businesses raising wages, and a full one-fifth of additional owners planning future wage increases, hopefully, the private sector will soon be able to compete with the overwhelming price the federal government is paying able-workers to sit on the sidelines.”

NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg says the “tight labor market is the biggest concern for small businesses who are competing with various factors such as supplemental unemployment benefits, childcare, and in-person school restrictions, and the virus. Many small business owners who are trying to hire are finding themselves unsuccessful and are having to delay the hiring or offer higher wages. Some owners are offering ‘show up’ bonuses for workers who agree to take the job and actually show up for work.”

On Friday, Ducey made a move to bring some relief on the childcare front by providing an additional $9 million in aid for child care providers throughout the state.

“Parents and families need access to safe, reliable, and high-quality child care, especially as Arizonans go back to work and job opportunities expand,” said Ducey. “With the additional funding announced today, we’re making sure more working families have access to that care. I’m grateful to all Arizonans working to ensure families and kids have the support and resources they need and am proud to celebrate Child Care Provider Appreciation Day.”

The CCWRR Grant Program provides immediate support to child care providers in hiring qualified staff and retaining existing staff. This grant program will help all regulated child care providers with recruitment and retention costs to support the child care workforce in Arizona. These funds are made available to Arizona through the Child Care and Development Fund CARES Act, 2020.

Child care centers and group homes must use grant funds for salaries and benefits for employees, and bonus incentives for hiring and retention. Group homes and family child care homes without staff, grant funds may be utilized for a variety of expenses including licensing fees, liability insurance, tuition and registration relief for families, lease and mortgage payments, utilities, classroom materials, and supplies.

While child care providers must apply and attest that they are open and providing child care services at the time of application and for the duration of the grant, grants are not competitive. Grant awards will be paid in one sum amount, with the distribution of payments initiated on June 24, 2021. Child care providers will have until September 30, 2021, to spend the grant funds.

In addition to the CCWRR Grant, the Department has also extended the Essential Workers Child Care Relief Scholarship through June 30, 2021, allowing essential workers and child care providers access to vital child care.

Wide-Ranging Pandemic Liability Bill Needs Just One More Vote To Reach Ducey

Wide-Ranging Pandemic Liability Bill Needs Just One More Vote To Reach Ducey

By Terri Jo Neff |

On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate is expected to vote one more time in favor of SB1377, a bill introduced by Sen. Vince Leach (R-LD11) to protect a wide range of businesses, government entities, and other organizations against liability for claims of negligence related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SB1377 initially passed the Senate last month with a minor amendment. It cleared the House on Monday on a 31 to 29 vote after another amendment. But because the House added yet another amendment to the bill, it must go back to the Senate for the caucus to concur or refuse the change, which is expected to be accepted Tuesday.

The bill would then be sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, who appears ready to sign it, thus establishing a new standard for COVID-19 related liability claims retroactive to March 10, 2020.

After Monday’s House vote, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce tweeted a thank you to the 31 representatives who voted for the bill. “This bill ensures frontline healthcare providers, businesses, schools, and other entities are extended commonsense liability protections that will help us get back to work,” the tweet said.

The legislation addresses liability claims involving a public health pandemic under a state of emergency declared by a governor. It protects any person or provider “who acts in good faith to protect a customer, student, tenant, volunteer, patient, guest or neighbor, or the public” from liability during a pandemic for an injury, death or loss to person or property based on a claim that the person or provider failed to protect against the public health emergency.

  • SB1377 establishes a presumption that a person or provider acted in good faith if the person or provider adopted and implemented “reasonable policies related to the public health pandemic.” No definition, however, is provided for what constitutes reasonable policies.
  • Those covered by the legislation as a provider include a person who furnishes consumer or business goods or services or entertainment; an educational institution, district, or charter school; a property owner, property manager or property lessor or lessee; a nonprofit organization; a religious institution;
  • the state, a state agency, or instrumentality; any local government or political subdivision, including all departments or commissions; a service provider; a health professional; or a health care institution.

A key feature of Leach’s bill is a change in the type of alleged acts or omissions which someone can pursue damages for related to the pandemic. It removes simple negligence as being actionable and would require a plaintiff to meet the criteria for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Opponents argue the legislation creates unnecessary hurdles for Arizonans seeking legal redress and that business owners, government officials, and healthcare professionals will escape responsibility for death, injuries, and other harms by blaming faulty or careless decisions on the pandemic.

Even those lawsuits which clear the gross negligence or willful misconduct threshold may not be able to meet the second significant change SB1377 makes to civil liability standards.

Currently a jury is asked to determine if a plaintiff has proven a claim by the “preponderance” of the evidence, a standard based on whether something was more likely or not to have occurred.  But SB1377 raises that to a higher standard of “clear and convincing” evidence.

  • Among those who oppose SB1377 are the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, and Arizona Center for Disability Law. A constitutional challenge is expected if the bill becomes law based on provisions which make it harder for Arizonans to initiate legal action.

The most controversial provision of SB1377 relates to nursing care or residential care institutions.

An amendment added Monday puts the burden of proof on such institutions which wish to argue that a claim for an act or omission involving care not directly related to the public health pandemic should be mitigated because the institution had to treat other patients for the pandemic or that the institution experienced limitations of staff or equipment as a result of the pandemic.

Supporters of SB1377 include several insurance companies, as well as the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Arizona Auto Dealers Association, Arizona Bankers Association, Arizona Board of Regents, Arizona Healthcare Association, Arizona Medical Association, Arizona Restaurant Association, and the County Supervisors Association of Arizona.