COVID-19 vaccine exemption sought

Some Nebraskans would be able to opt out of an employer COVID-19 vaccination mandate under a bill heard Jan. 27 by the Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Ben Hansen
Sen. Ben Hansen

LB906, as introduced by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, would have applied to all employer vaccine mandates. Hansen brought an amendment to the hearing to limit the bill’s provisions to COVID-19 mandates.

The bill would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to create and publish a form on its website to be filled out by employees seeking an exemption based either on a health care practitioner’s recommendation or the individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The federal government, any corporation wholly owned by the federal government, Indian tribes and bona fide private membership clubs, other than labor organizations, that are exempt from federal taxation would be exempted from the bill’s provisions.

Under LB906, employers could require unvaccinated employees to wear personal protective equipment or submit to COVID-19 testing at the employer’s expense.

Hansen said COVID-19 vaccines have not been effective in stopping infection or the spread of the disease and called the federal vaccine mandate “morally and medically unjustified.”

“I think it is your decision to make,” Hansen said.

Nebraska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone testified in support of LB906. COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and effective and have prevented an estimated 3,200 hospitalizations and 700 deaths in Nebraska, Anthone said, but individuals who choose not to be vaccinated should be allowed to continue their employment.

Charlotte Ralston testified in support of the bill, saying that members of her family have been threatened with termination of employment if they did not become vaccinated.

“By supporting this bill, you secure our constitutional rights as citizens who choose to be exempt rather than to violate their conscience or gamble with their health,” she said.

Dr. David Watts, president of the Nebraska Medical Association, testified in opposition to LB906. Watts said physicians and clinics should be able to keep their facilities safe and that the bill could hinder the response to a public health crisis.

“We hope that it would not become the ongoing policy of the state of Nebraska to interject matters of private employment into a public health issue,” Watts said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB906.

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