By Brandon Moseley
The Alabama House of Representatives will vote on two bills concerning vaccine mandates on Thursday. Although many people wanted the legislature to take up the mandates, some people said these bills aren’t the answer.
The Alabama House Health Committee gave a favorable report to the bills Wednesday. The legislation addresses issues with President Joe Biden’s (D) controversial vaccine mandates.
Senate Bill 9 would establish a state legal definition for medical and religious exemptions from vaccine mandates. Businesses seeking to fire an employee would have to appeal with the Alabama Department of Labor, then an administrative law judge would decide.Under SB 9, the employer cannot question someone’s medical exemption or question their deeply held religious belief exemption.
Senate Bill 15 establishes that a minor child cannot be vaccinated without written permission from the parent. It also makes Alabama’s vaccine passport ban COVID-19-specific and designates that the Alabama Attorney General’s office can enforce that vaccine passport ban.
SB 15 is sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Huntsville). SB 15 is being carried on the House floor by State Rep. Rhett Marques (R-Enterprise).
SB 9 is sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) and is being carried on the House floor by State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia).
Health freedom advocates spoke out against the bill saying that it does not go far enough.
Casey Cavender with Health Freedom Alabama said, “There needs to be a penalty section to make sure that businesses do not continue to break the law.”
Others, like Stephanie Durnin, said it falls short and needs more work to actually make a difference.
“It does not protect contract workers and will not stand the test of time,” Durnin said. “How are violators held accountable? This has the stench of BCA all over it. SB 9 is a neutered castrated bill that does nothing. We hope that you do better.”
Robin Stone, with the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), said that BCA opposes the bill.
“BCA opposes mandates on employers like President Biden’s,” Stone said. “We support the efforts of Attorney General Steve Marshall and Governor Kay Ivey challenging President Biden’s mandates in court.
“BCA has confidence in Alabama employers. Compliance should not be construed as supporting the mandate.”
Stephen Morris is with the Alabama Department of Labor. He was unhappy with SB 9.
“We would like to be taken out of this bill completely,” Morris said, “The Department of Labor is not set up for this. We do not need to be a part of this. Send it straight to an administrative law judge.”
The Department of Labor is objecting to the bill’s provision requiring that they be the repository for every medical or religious exemption anyone files in the state.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said that negotiations are ongoing on both bills and there will be changes on the House floor.
Thursday will be day six of the second 2021 special session. It will likely be the last day of the special session as all four redistricting plans and the supplemental appropriation for nursing homes and hospitals have all already passed both Houses of the Alabama legislature and have been sent to the governor. SB 9 and SB 15, are the last items on the legislature’s agenda.