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A group of California lawmakers, led by District 15 Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, have introduced a bill proposing that all businesses in the state mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.
Assembly Bill 1993 would require workplaces and employers of all sizes to verify that their workers – both employees and independent contractors – are fully immunized against the coronavirus. If signed into law and passed by Governor Gavin Newsom, the law would take effect on January 1, 2023.
The bill comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking President Biden’s nationwide vaccine mandate for large employers, leaving vaccine rules and implementation up to individual states. With responsibilities falling on individual state legislatures, the lawmakers aim to carry the workplace safety requirements into law on the state level.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
Wicks said via statement that Californians needs “consistency and certainty,” adding that vaccines are key to transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic, when a disease becomes more manageable.
AB 1993 would require new hires of a business to have at least one shot by their first day on the job, and the second within 45 days. The bill includes no option for a testing alternative unless an employee qualifies for a medical or religious exemption.
Guidance for employers on what constitutes a medical condition, disability, religious belief, and valid vaccination status would be determined by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
If signed into law, businesses that don’t comply with the bill would be subject to fines and penalties.
John Swartzberg, Infectious Disease Expert at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said the U.S. has not done a good job thus far of preventing the impacts of COVID-19 and pointed out some sobering statistics: While the U.S. accounts for 4% of the world’s population, it accounts for 21% of the world’s COVID-19 cases, and 15% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, he said.
“When people are vaccinated, the world is safer – businesses are more stable, their employees and patrons better protected,” he said.
THE LARGER TREND
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against the Biden Administration’s mandate that employees of large companies either get vaccinated or get tested weekly. They upheld the federal mandate for healthcare workers in facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding to get vaccinated.
Less than two weeks later, OSHA said it was withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard that had been in place since November 5. The Supreme Court decision had blocked the mandate from taking effect while challenges moved through the court system. According to National Review, the case was set to return to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, but outstanding legal proceedings will be dropped now that the Labor Department has rescinded the rule.
The White House had estimated that the requirement would cover 4 million workers, according to NBC News.
Since the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers still stands, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has set a March 15 deadline for such workers to get their shots.
This applies to healthcare facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid in the 24 states subject to the Supreme Court ruling. The decision upholds the CMS mandate, at least temporarily, as the requirement is challenged on appeal. CMS released the guidance the day after the Supreme Court decision.
Other states have until Feb. 28 to ensure healthcare workers have been fully vaccinated. In these states, the vaccine mandate was not blocked.
The mandate remains blocked in Texas as that state had brought its own lawsuit separate from the cases brought before the Supreme Court. Also, most recently, 16 states are making another effort to stop the federal mandate in a coalition led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
The CMS guidance applies to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.