Utah Highway Patrol soldiers take a man into custody for breaking committee meeting rules by failing to cover a political shirt, before discussion of vaccine passport changes began at a meeting of the committee at the State Capitol on Tuesday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — After a tense meeting that began with some community members being kicked out by soldiers, the Utah Senate introduced a bill that will ban businesses and the government from demanding vaccine passports to enter.
HB60 brought dozens of them to the Senate Tax and Revenue Committee meeting on Tuesday days before the end of the session.
The bill as originally drafted would also have prohibited companies from requiring vaccines. After a heated debate, the committee eventually approved by a 7-2 vote a new version of the bill that still allows employers to require “proof of immunity status”, which can include a previous infection if they have a doctor’s note.
The bill awaits full Senate approval — as well as House approval of amendments — before it can become final.
At the start of the meeting, committee chairman Senator Dan McCay, R-Riverton, warned the crowd that they should abide by the Legislative Assembly’s decorum rules, which he said prohibit attendees getting angry, wearing political stickers, or carrying flags or signs during meetings.
“There are, just like there are everywhere you go, there are rules that you follow in society. Some of them just aren’t a fool, are they? And that rule unfortunately seems to be violated more frequently than not on Capitol Hill,” McCay said.
He said those in the room were breaking the rules, which led him to interrupt the committee for five minutes to give attendees a chance to “follow these rules”.
During this break, people started shouting in the room. Soldiers escorted away a few people, including a man who had removed political stickers but refused to cover a t-shirt that read “We the people”.
When the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, began his presentation, he began by attempting to comment on the no sticker or sign rule, and that he is “deeply disappointed”.
“Representative, don’t test the President’s mettle,” McCay shot back. “Please keep your comments relevant to the bill.”
Brooks said the bill was intended to prohibit discrimination against someone because of their vaccination or medical status.
“I think it’s important to note that when we come up with legislation, especially something about this, that it’s not a COVID bill, but COVID has definitely brought it out to because of what many consider an overshoot,” Brooks said. .
He described government leaders as “going overboard” in urging people during the pandemic not to celebrate Christmas with more than 10 people at home.
“What this bill really does is go back to the way we did business before COVID,” he said.
McCay argued that forcing someone to allow someone onto his property is “really uncomfortable” for him, calling it “dangerous territory”.
But Brooks likened the bill to the civil rights movement, saying, “We know that people are created equal.”
He said the unvaccinated should be a protected class.
But McCay said an unvaccinated person still has a choice of which businesses they visit.
That’s not the case for some small towns, Brooks said, explaining that a town like Blanding only has two grocery stores.
During a lengthy public comment session, some people, mostly from the business community, spoke out against the bill, but the majority of commentators supported the bill.
Elizabeth Converse, with Utah Tech Leads, called the bill “anti-business” and said that as it is currently written, it would also affect other vaccines, causing problems.
Karen Zaya, who described herself as a nurse, said she was considered high risk due to her medical history, but she supports the bill.
“Nobody has the right to ask me what my medical history is. That’s exactly what a passport is,” she said, adding that it makes her “vulnerable to discrimination.”
Mark Alston, one of the owners of the Bayou – among the only businesses in Utah to require proof of vaccine from customers to enter – claimed food service workers were the source of hundreds of disease outbreaks of food origin in the country. He expressed concern about what the bill could do to the restaurant industry.
“I am a living woman who reserves my rights before God,” said Heather Vanin, explaining that vaccine passports allow people to be “withheld” from services based on their health status.
She said that as a mother she had seen “a lot of things cured” without vaccines.