By Brandon Moseley

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee on Monday approved two bills to address concerns about vaccine mandates in Alabama.

Senate Bill 9 was sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) and SB 15 by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur). The committee approved both.

However, the pressing concern for supporters of both bills is whether the legislature will consider either. The two vaccine bills were not in Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the special session. It takes a two-thirds supermajority for the legislature to consider legislation from outside the scope of the Governor’s call. 

According to the synopsis, SB 9 “would require employers or contractors to allow individuals to claim an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination for medical reasons or because of sincerely held religious beliefs upon submission of a standard exemption form.

“This bill would prohibit an employer or contractor from terminating an individual for refusing a vaccine if he or she submits a properly completed exemption form. This bill would authorize an employer or contractor to seek a ruling by the Department of Labor before the employer or contractor may terminate an individual who has completed an exemption form but refuses a vaccine.” (Synopsis SB9).

Elliott said this bill “Clarifies existing exemptions and prohibits employers from terminating an employee who has properly filled out an exemption form.”

Elliott added that his bill includes an exemption form “for a medical reason or a sincerely held religious belief.”

State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

Albritton asked, “Would the medical exemptions include immunity?”

Elliot replied, “Yes.”

Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) is a licensed physician.

“This does not require that the medical reason be disclosed,” Melson said. “I believe that the doctor-patient relationship should be between the patient and the medical provider.”

State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) opposed the bill.

“You are basically taking somebody’s word,” Coleman-Madison said. “You might as well have no excuse. Has the person ever had a vaccination shot? Is the person opposed to all vaccines or just opposed to this one?”

Elliott said, “I don’t believe that this legislature should be in the business of determining an individual’s faith.”

“If this is a true religious belief and you are opposing vaccinations, you should never have taken them,” Coleman-Madison said. “We make laws, and laws should apply to everyone equally.”

State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said, “You are opening up this Pandora’s box. I will be a ‘no’ on this bill and fighting it on the floor.”

“There is a reason why vaccines are required when a child is born,” Coleman-Madison said. “There is a reason why these vaccines were created. If we were not in a pandemic, we would not even be talking about this.”

Orr’s SB 15 also passed the committee.

According to the synopsis of SB 15, “Existing law prohibits the issuance of vaccine or immunization passports or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying the immunization status of an individual, except when required for admission to a public K-12 school. This bill would authorize the Attorney General to pursue civil actions to enjoin a threatened or continuing violation of this prohibition.”

The synopsis continues,” Existing law provides that an institution of education may continue to require a student to prove vaccination status as a condition of attendance only for the specific vaccines that were already required by the institution as of January 1, 2021, provided it offers certain exemptions. This bill would prohibit an institution of education from inquiring about a student’s vaccination status without parental consent.”

The term “student” was replaced by the committee with “minor” – which, under Alabama law, is a non-emancipated person under 19 years of age.

Coleman-Madison said, “Does everybody want to go back and do away with the polio shots, do away with the pneumonia vaccine? There is a reason why all of these vaccines came about.”

The special session called by Ivey was to address redistricting and a supplemental appropriation of the American Rescue Act funds, but neither has generated much public interest at the State House. Instead, hundreds of people have come to the Capitol to lobby for some protection from COVID-19 mandates being imposed on Alabama workers by President Joe Biden (D) and employers across Alabama.

Hundreds of vaccine mandate protesters were on hand when the session began on Thursday and again on Monday. The protests were organized primarily by Eagle Forum of Alabama, the Republican Women of Shelby County, the Alabama Legislative Watchdogs, and other conservative groups. Many were wearing badges and stickers voicing support for Sen. Orr’s broader SB 13. That bill did not get placed on the committee calendar and was widely opposed by Alabama business interests who lobbied heavily against it because of the civil liability component for employers.

SB 9 and SB 13 could both be on the floor of the Alabama Senate as soon as Tuesday.

Monday was day three of the second 2021 special session.