By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday directed state agencies not to cooperate with the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, where possible, and instead help with the state’s efforts to file a lawsuit challenging the vaccination requirements.
The directive is part of Republican officials’ efforts to resist the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, but the impact of the Alabama order is unclear since it can only cover state executive branch agencies.
Ivey signed an executive order forbidding executive branch agencies — which include agencies such as Medicaid, Mental Health and Human Resources — from penalizing employees or businesses for non-compliance with the federal vaccine mandate. If federal law requires the penalty, Ivey directed the state entity to take steps to notify the affected business or individual that Alabama does not condone the penalty.
Gina Maiola, a spokesperson for Ivey, said the governor issued the executive order because some state agencies could potentially fall under the federal vaccine mandate or have enforcement duties. Maiola did not immediately respond to an email seeking examples.
“The federal government’s outrageous overreach has simply given us no other option, but to begin taking action, which is why I am issuing this executive order to fight these egregious COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Ivey said in a statement.
The executive order comes three days after the state’s largest universities announced employees must get vaccinated because of the federal mandate.
However, Ivey’s executive order would not impact those plans announced by the University of Alabama System and Auburn University to require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Dec. 8. The universities were created by the Alabama Constitution and are under the management and control of a board of trustees.
The schools said the Alabama campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Huntsville and Auburn all are federal contractors, so they have to comply with an executive order signed last month by President Joe Biden.
Ryan Easterling, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Public Health said that agency is still investigating how it is affected by the federal mandate, but wrote in an email that, “we intend to comply with (the) Governor’s order.”
Biden in September ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans.
The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated. Biden is also requiring vaccination for federal employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government.
Conservative Republican in several states have vowed resistance to the mandate, calling it a federal overreach, but so far have limited options in trying to undercut the requirements. The issue is likely bound for court after GOP attorneys general vowed to sue.
The White House has previously accused Republican officials to putting politics ahead of safety, noting the effectiveness of vaccines at preventing people from dying from a virus that has already killed more than 730,000 Americans.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshal said earlier this month that his office is preparing to challenge the mandate on employers once the rule is unveiled.
Ivey’s executive order directed executive agencies to cooperate with Marshall’s office in “furtherance of litigation brought by the State to challenge any federally imposed COVID-19 vaccination requirement.”
In a statement Monday, the Alabama Democratic Party said vaccine mandates are “nothing new,” noting that states and the federal governments mandate a number of things to protect people — including seat belts, restaurant inspections and numerous other vaccinations that are required to go to school or join the military.
“What’s wrong with a mandate that protects public health and keeps our hospitals from overcrowding?” the party stated.