Employer vaccine mandates have been met with strong resistance from lawmakers and those concerned that it violates individual rights. Now, the state of Arkansas is attempting to restrict the applicability of such mandates.
Arkansas’ House and Senate Public Committees have given their approval to identical versions of a bill that allows employees in the state to opt out from their employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate provided they have developed natural antibodies or agree to be tested on a weekly basis. The legislation also asks the state to provide workers who are fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine with unemployment benefits.
It now needs to be approved by lawmakers and signed into law by the state’s Republican Governor, Asa Hutchinson. The governor had earlier criticized President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, warning that such dictates would only increase people’s hesitancy to vaccines. Republican Senator Kim Hammer said that the bill will give employees “some protection” in case their employer insists that they get inoculated.
Federal officials had earlier stated that Biden’s vaccine mandate is applicable to people with antibodies as well. This has been a controversial position since some studies have suggested that such people might have better protection against COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals.
A study published in August by Israeli researchers from Maccabi Healthcare and Tel Aviv University found that natural immunity offered a “longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease, and hospitalization.”
At a House panel, Randy Zook, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, warned lawmakers that the state proposal to restrict vaccine mandates could put businesses in a tough position as they might have to choose between violating state law or federal law.
“We are tying the hands of Arkansas businesses that want to make their own decision in how best to keep their people safe… We’re screaming bloody murder about a Biden administration mandate when what we’re attempting to do with these laws is to impose a mandate from the state government,” Zook told the House panel.
In addition, health care facilities also face a complicated choice. Biden’s mandate requires healthcare employees to get vaccinated, failing which, the facilities could lose out on Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Arkansas law already prohibits local and state government entities, including educational institutions, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.
The federal vaccine mandate, announced on Sept. 9, punishes companies that do not adhere to it. Businesses can be fined up to $US13,600.00.
Marty Walsh, Department of Labor Secretary, has set up an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement the vaccine mandate.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently stated that the administration has not set an exact timeline as to when the mandate would be implemented.
“We never gave an exact timeline… So—maybe we should have been more specific at the time. Obviously, it takes some time and we want to make sure when we put these out they are clear and they provide the guidance necessary for businesses….I can’t give you a timeline. OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) is working on them. Hopefully, we’ll know more in the coming weeks,” Psaki said.