Stephen Waguespack, Clay Schexnayder, Page Cortez

From left, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez address LABI's annual conference on Feb. 11, 2020.

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is raising concerns over President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees and private sector businesses, a policy that could affect as many as 100 million Americans.

The group is Louisiana’s largest business organization, representing more than 2,000 employers. It also serves as the state chapter for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

After Biden’s announcement requiring mandatory vaccinations at businesses with 100 or more employees, LABI President and CEO Stephen Waguespack expressed legal and economic unease.

“I have been vaccinated and LABI encourages everyone to consult their doctor about doing so if they haven't already. Improving vaccination rates is critical to our community’s health and economy," Waguespack said. "Having said that, President Biden’s proposal to require American companies to mandate vaccinations is clearly not the role of the federal government, and OSHA has no constitutional authority, capacity or standing to enforce such an action.”

The Biden administration's vaccine mandate plan will be enacted through a regulatory rule from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Labor and regularly inspects private workplaces.

The plan also includes weekly testing regimens for employees with religious, medical and other legally recognized exemptions. Each violation carries a potential $14,000 penalty, the administration said.

Waguespack cited numerous considerations, such as companies offshoring operations to retain skilled employees, the potential for predatory litigation, lost jobs and labor shortages, as well as the risks and costs associated with exorbitant fines.

“Instead of taking targeted actions to jump start our stagnant economy, the Administration and Congressional leadership continue to propose new taxes, unprecedented spending and mandates that will drive up costs and stifle economic growth," Waguespack said. "We implore the President to reconsider this action and return to a more productive and constitutional effort to improve vaccination rates through education and access.”

Biden said Thursday unvaccinated Americans “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said. “This is not about freedom or personal choice. It’s about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with the people you care about, the people you love.”

Louisiana has ranked among the lowest-vaccinated states. Gov. John Bel Edwards said about 43% of vaccine eligible Louisianans are fully vaccinated.

Edwards, a Democrat, has yet to comment on the large employer vaccine mandate. His public statements and social media remain focused on Hurricane Ida recovery and COVID-19 health-related activities. A request for comment was not returned.

Louisiana’s two Republican U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, also remained silent, as has U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat representing New Orleans.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has not commented, though she has implemented some of the most stringent coronavirus health measures in the country, such as the so-called vaccine passport system to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, pool halls, arcades and many other private businesses.

Louisiana’s GOP-dominated congressional delegation, however, has levied harsh criticisms against the president.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the second-highest ranking House Republican, said the Biden employer mandate was “about government control.” He also cited Biden’s statement July 25, which said vaccine mandates are “not the role of government.”

“This is not about science,” Scalise said.

Louisiana Republican House representatives Clay Higgins and Mike Johnson followed suit. Higgins said the president “has zero authority to mandate vaccine compliance.” Johnson called the move a “brazen overreach.”