A bill that would have banned businesses in the state from mandating its employees get COVID-19 vaccinations has failed in a House committee.
House Bill 1547, which would make employers wait years after a COVID-19 vaccine has been officially approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before requiring its employees to get it, failed to receive the needed support on Tuesday from the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee to move on to the House.
Currently, three approved COVID-19 vaccinations are available through an emergency use authorization from the FDA.
The bill also makes COVID-19 vaccines optional in order to enroll in a school or early learning center, as a condition for employment or in order to obtain a licensure, certificate or permit. The bill would sunset, or cease to impose restrictions, two years after the FDA approves of the COVID-19 immunization or vaccine on a non-emergency basis.
In presenting her bill, Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R- Springdale, said she was not anti-vaccine.
"Sadly though, I think with this process, we have pushed and pushed and pushed our scientists to the limit and they have rushed and had to do so much," Lundstrum said. "We need to be thankful that they’ve done as much as they have, but once you put something into millions of arms, you’ll find out what the problems are. And I think if we mandate this vaccine, we’ll have a pushback from the American people and they won’t want to use it."
Representatives both from the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Health testified against the bill.
In addition to the restrictions under the proposed legislation, employees who resign from their jobs due to not wanting a COVID-19 vaccine would be allowed to apply for unemployment benefits.
Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, expressed concern over that aspect of the bill.
"Even if you agree with the bill about not mandating it, the unemployment aspect is my biggest concern as an employer. I just can’t imagine how misused that might be, just say 'No I don’t want to take the vaccine,' and then they can draw unemployment [and] just use it as an excuse to quit work," Ferguson said.
Before the committee voted on the bill, Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, spoke on why he was supporting it.
"The idea that an employer would enforce an employee to take it against their will, I think is wrong. We’re not talking about a drug that is proven. It’s not even proven to the point that the FDA is willing to endorse it," Payton said.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all three COVID-19 vaccinations available in the U.S. "met FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization."
Rep. Justin Boyd, R- Fort Smith, spoke against the bill.
"This is a major mandate on business, and we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. We don’t know if this is going to be an ongoing vaccine or not," Boyd said. "And for us as a legislature to micromanage something with businesses that we can’t come back, without the governor calling a special session, in two years. I just think that that’s unnecessary," Boyd said.
Although it failed, the bill could be brought up again to the committee.