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Nearing final passage, Legislature tweaking anti-vaccine mandate bills

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed two COVID-19 vaccine-related bills, one aimed at pushing back against federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Senate Bill 9 would allow employees to claim religious or medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine through a standardized form given to employers.

Senate Bill 15 as originally intended would strengthen Alabama’s existing vaccine passport ban with prosecutorial authority for the attorney general and prohibit COVID-19 vaccinations for minors without parental consent.

But in the Senate, bill sponsors moved not to concur with House changes and instead went to conference committees to work out differences in what the two chambers want in the bills. Those meetings were happening late Thursday evening.

While it passed with an overwhelming margin of 67-23, the vaccine exemptions bill faced a bumpy day as more Republicans started to voice concerns about how it could hurt businesses, especially federal contractors, and Alabama’s claim as a right-to-work state.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, handled the bill in the House and said it would protect employees and employers in the state.

“We are trying to make sure that this is a job protection type of bill,” Jones said.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he believes the bill is going to kill jobs and has received calls from defense contractors in north Alabama concerned about the bill.

“We’re forcing them to have more red tape and adding more regulations for them to be able to operate in the state of Alabama is a shame,” Daniels said.

Multiple business groups, including the Business Council of Alabama and the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, opposed anti-mandate bills in this special session. In all, there were 13 introduced.

Vaccine exemption bill sponsor Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said the House changes addressed some of the concerns of the business community and those would be the subject of continued negotiations.

“I never expected them to be in favor of the bill. But my job is to protect my constituents and the employees in my district,” Elliott said.

“There were some things in (the House version) that the business community wanted that were not in the Senate version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a business guy myself, so I get it. I just need to make sure this bill really, actually helps people in Alabama.”

Senate Bill 15 from Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was amended in the House Thursday in a way that weakened its original intent. Orr said that’s why he requested to go to conference committee.

That bill passed the House with a vote of 65-23.

Alabama joined with a coalition of other states in a lawsuit filed last week challenging the vaccine mandate on federal contractors. The lawsuit is part of Republican-led efforts to oppose the federal requirements.

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