Senators debate liberty and tenure bills

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The discussion over how best to handle vaccination mandates is driving a wedge between lawmakers trying to appease voters while maintaining a business-friendly environment in the state. (Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The debate over vaccine mandates is the No. 1 issue on the minds of Oklahoma voters right now, the chairman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee said Thursday.

But the discussion over how best to handle the vaccination mandates is driving a wedge between Republicans, trying to appease voters while maintaining a business-friendly environment in the state.

State Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, praised fellow lawmakers for having “the heart in the right place” as they introduced bills to support the rights of people opposed to vaccination mandates. But speaking as a rural lawmaker and business owner, Paxton said the bills would cost the state $5.5 billion and give businesses reason to avoid moving into the Oklahoma.

“I’m not for vaccine mandates,” Paxton said. “I’m also not for smashing Oklahoma state businesses with a series of bills. … We must spend our time as legislators continually dealing with laws that are, without question, anti-corporate, anti-corporate, pro-lawyer laws. It does not help to advance this state. This does not help to make this state one of the top 10 states for business.

State Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah, has agreed to temporarily halt progress on his Senate Bill 1128, dubbed the Employee Liberty and Liberty Act, after numerous questions about the effect of the law Project. The measure would make it illegal for any person, association or corporation to require an employee to “submit to or take any vaccination, injection, injection or medication against any virus, disease or condition”.

“What are we doing to stop this overrun of mandates? said Stephens. “Voters want to know.” Stephens said some employees have dedicated decades of their lives to serving their employers, only to have the rules suddenly change and their livelihoods threatened.

Paxton said he opposes vaccination mandates and has stopped hanging out with companies that mandate them – even giving up his tickets to basketball games. The free market can make those decisions, Paxton said, but the state government shouldn’t meddle in how private companies run their affairs.

“A lot of times we keep employees that we really need to get rid of because employers are afraid that a money-hungry lawyer will sue the next day with a lawsuit,” Paxton said. “When a company closes, 100% of those employees lose their jobs, every time.”

State Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, spoke about a voter who runs her business from her home. The business owner has multiple sclerosis and has immunocompromised twins.

“Why on my property, with my own business, am I not able to demand vaccinations, because my employees are coming in and out of my personal property and my home,” Garvin said of the question. his voter. Garvin wondered “how we got to this point” of arguing over one voter’s personal freedoms trumping another’s.

Garvin noted that the bill would ban all vaccination mandates — even those that have been in place for decades. Healthcare workers would no longer be required to be tested for tuberculosis. Garvin also asked during the meeting who would be held liable if state law caused a company to breach a federal contract.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services require vaccination for COVID-19 and other illnesses, Paxton said. As a former board member of a rural hospital, Paxton saw what happens when rural hospitals don’t comply with CMS rules – they shut down or raise local taxes.

“When they (CMS) issue a money order, whether we like it or not, they’re the ones with the checkbook,” Paxton said. “You have to follow the rules or not take their funding.”

SB 1128 would put hospitals in a position where they couldn’t follow state law and federal law at the same time, Paxton said. The loss of CMS funding would cost the state $5.5 billion, Paxton said.

The committee voted 8-4 to advance Sen. Nathan Dahm’s SB 1157, which would protect unemployment benefits for employees fired for failing to comply with a vaccination mandate.

“The United States Constitution does not guarantee anyone a job anywhere, it does not guarantee you a job,” Paxton said.

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