By Corinne Murdock |
A bill that would ban vaccine mandates for government employees died in committee on Monday after a Republican lawmaker voted with Democrats.
State Rep. Matt Gress (R-LD04) said that while he opposed vaccine mandates, he believed that the bill’s language was problematic and “overly broad.” Gress specifically noted his concern that this bill would inhibit the readiness of the armed forces.
“I have deep concerns about our military being ready to address any issues that may arise, including being dispatched to other parts of the world,” said Gress.
The bill, HB2316, would prohibit the government and public accommodations from discriminating against individuals based on their vaccination status, in addition to banning a mandate. These prohibitions wouldn’t apply to health care institutions, schools, and child care facilities. State Rep. Rachel Jones (R-LD17) introduced the bill, along with clean-up language from a strike-everything amendment from State Rep. Barbara Parker (R-LD10).
Several members of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, State Reps. Jacqueline Parker (R-LD15) and Joseph Chaplik (R-LD03), spoke out against Gress’ vote. Parker called Gress’ opposition to the bill “unacceptable,” with Chaplik retweeting her remarks.
During Monday’s committee hearing, Jones said that her husband, a Border Patrol agent, recounted how she was inspired to introduce this legislation because he and others faced the vaccine mandate. Jones said that she and Sen. Justine Wadsack (R-LD17) were inundated with calls from federal employees and contractors worried about the government’s vaccine mandate. Jones testified that they helped over 3,000 individuals retain their jobs.
“I really did make this promise to a lot of the federal employees that I met a year ago that I would come up here and make sure that I would protect them as Arizona citizens from any further overreach from the federal government,” said Jones.
Jones declared that the COVID-19 vaccine should never have been mandated in the first place.
“I think the 10th Amendment gives us the right to protect our citizens if the federal government is potentially overreaching,” said Jones.
Jones also read an anonymous letter from a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent denied religious accommodations. The individual had served 17 years in the Air Force: 4 years active duty and 13 years in the reserves.
“’It was unsettling to think that I spent the last 17 years of my life ready to defend the constitutional rights of our citizens and never once did I realize that I somehow gave up my own constitutional rights in the process,’” read Jones. “’Here I am about to lose everything because I want medical freedom and, dare I say it, religious freedom.’”
Parker said that Arizona would be taking back authority from the federal government.
“A ‘yes’ vote means you will never allow a bureaucracy to use pseudoscience to destroy your civil liberties ever again,” said Parker.
Rep. Patricia Contreras (D-LD12) said that the bill was unnecessary, and claimed that the vaccine prevented COVID-19 deaths.
Among those who signaled opposition to the bill were the ACLU, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Public Health Association, American Cancer Society, Coconino County, Arizona Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.