Health and Human Services

COVID-19 vaccine exemption amended, advanced

A bill providing a process for exemptions to employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates advanced from general file Feb. 9.

Sen. Ben Hansen
Sen. Ben Hansen

LB906, as introduced by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, would have applied to all employer vaccine mandates by Nebraska entities with 20 or more employees.

A Health and Human Services Committee amendment, adopted 35-0, replaced the bill and limited its provisions to COVID-19 mandates.

The amended 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 belief, practice or observance.

LB906 would apply to entities with one or more employees, including state agencies and other political subdivisions. 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 Nebraskans should not be forced to choose between their beliefs and their livelihood, adding that the bill offers protection for employers who want to keep employees safe from COVID-19.

“[LB906] is about the individual right to make decisions for one’s own life, health and future,” Hansen said.

Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams offered an amendment that would allow Medicare-certified and Medicaid-certified providers or suppliers or federal contractors to require additional processes, documentation or accommodations as necessary to comply with federal law and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulations.

Lawmakers adopted the amendment on a 33-1 vote.

La Vista Sen. John Arch said the amended bill would reaffirm that employees have the ability to apply for a medical or religious exemption.

“This is not imposing anything additional,” Arch said. “This is a clarifying statement to the employers and the employees.”

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue questioned the need for LB906. Nebraska is an at-will employment state, she said, which means employers can fire individuals for any reason that doesn’t discriminate against an employee who is a member of a protected class.

“I don’t think this bill is going to change anything,” Blood said. “You can go ahead and fill out this form but if deep down your employer doesn’t feel that what you’re saying is valid, they don’t have to accept that.”

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha opposed the bill. She said unvaccinated employees are making a choice that puts other employees at risk.

“A decision to be vaccinated or not is not a private decision. It has ripple effects beyond that person,” Hunt said.

After adoption of the amendments, senators advanced LB906 to select file on a 33-0 vote.

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