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W.Va. House passes vaccine mandate exemption bill

Delegates debate the COVID-19 vaccination mandate exemption bill during Friday morning's floor...
Delegates debate the COVID-19 vaccination mandate exemption bill during Friday morning's floor session.(WSAZ)
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 11:56 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Friday morning that would prevent companies from creating widespread COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

House Bill 335, added to the ongoing Special Session by Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday, would allow anyone to get a medical or religious exemption from their company’s mandate if they do not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It passed the House 68 to 30 after hours of debate.

Bill requiring employers to have COVID-19 vaccination exemptions added to W.Va. Special Session

The bill states that “current or prospective employees would be exempt from such immunization requirements upon the presentation of a certification to the employer, signed by a licensed physician or an advanced practice registered nurse” that has examined the employee stating that their physical condition is such that a COVID-19 immunization is contraindicated.

The bill also said an employer cannot penalize or discriminate against a current or prospective employee for exercising exemption rights based on religious beliefs.

“The bill, as it’s laid forward, is going to require a person to have a certification from their physician or nurse practitioner in order to get that exemption,” lead sponsor Del. Amy Summers (R-Taylor) said. “They’re not just going to write that themselves and pass that off to their employer, they are going to have to have a certification from one of those individuals.”

Del. Summers said the bill looks to protect people from losing their jobs because they do not want to get vaccinated.

However, Democrats expressed concerns this bill is too vague and could allow anyone to avoid getting vaccinated.

Del. Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) said he supports vaccination mandate exemptions, but this bill does not have any specific reasons. He said someone could get an exemption because they previously had COVID-19 despite the fact people can be infected by the virus multiple times.

“You know this week we celebrated, because that’s what you guys are doing now, you’re celebrating,” Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) said during the bill’s debate. “We celebrated 4,000 dead West Virginians. We surpassed that mark. Entire cities being wiped out. It’s like Lewisburg and Ripley being wiped out. And instead of coming in here and maybe having a moment of silence for them, maybe reflecting on the policy decisions we are making, we decide we are just going to be giving empowerment and a voice to the anti-vaxxers, the anti-factsers and the anti-sciencers.”

Del. Heather Tully (R-Nicholas) supports the bill and said the language is broad on purpose. She said most people will want to get vaccination exemptions because they are allergic to ingredients in the vaccines, but a number of people have been denied exemptions due to risks like blood clots.

Business, hospital leaders concerned by W.Va. COVID-19 vaccine mandate exemption bill

“Guys, the reality is here that WVU Medicine was asking for people to name their religious or spiritual advisor because they might have to contact them or other religious scholars to determine if that person’s deeply held religious belief actually is a deeply held religious belief,” Del. Daniel Linville (R-Cabell) said in support of these broad exemptions.

Del. Brandon Steele (R-Raleigh) said during debate on the floor that surrounding states are also considering similar similar laws. Del. Kayla Young (D-Kanawha) said the same states already have businesses that are enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Both the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and West Virginia Hospital Association have voiced their opposition of the bill, claiming it could cost businesses in the state millions of dollars. Leaders said the bill is poorly written and would contradict federal laws that already require them to have an exemption process for mandatory vaccinations.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate which has been working on its own version of the bill.

Del. Tully said Republican leadership is willing to come back in for another special session to change the law if it contradicts with new federal laws that could be passed in the coming weeks.

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