(The Center Square) – New Hampshire lawmakers are moving ahead with a controversial plan that would block private businesses from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
A proposal approved Tuesday by the Legislature's Education Committee would ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates in public and private schools, hospitals and businesses.
The provision was tacked onto a larger bill approved by the committee, which would exempt businesses and colleges from liability if an employee or student is exposed to COVID-19. The bill would also expand the exemptions people could claim to avoid a workplace vaccine mandate to include philosophical reasons and natural immunity.
The measure's primary sponsor, state Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said it would ensure "that no New Hampshire entity can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual who objects to such vaccination for any reason."
“It is my constitutional right to either be vaccinated or not. It’s my choice, not that of the government," Ladd said in remarks to the panel. "To be denied employment based upon not being vaccinated is nothing short of discrimination."
A majority of those who spoke at Tuesday's public hearing were opposed to vaccine mandates and supported GOP lawmakers efforts to block the requirements.
Democrats criticized the plan and said it would compromise the state's efforts to reach unvaccinated individuals with cases rising amid the colder weather.
"Let’s be clear, the COVID vaccine is safe and effective," said Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton. "It is the right of companies, schools, and organizations to protect their patrons and employees from a virus that has taken the lives of over 750,000 Americans. Denying private businesses and organizations this right is not the New Hampshire way."
The GOP-controlled Legislature is considering more than 30 bills in the upcoming legislative session dealing with vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, including masking.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said recently he is drafting legislation for consideration in the upcoming session to block the state or local governments from enforcing the vaccine mandates in the state.
The Biden administration is also requiring vaccinations for health care workers at hospitals and other facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.
More than two dozen state attorneys general, including New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, and other groups are challenging the mandate in court.
Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court ordered a temporary halt on the mandate, which prompted the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to suspend enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private businesses while the case plays out in court.
Despite the court’s ruling, the White House is still urging businesses to continue implementing the guidance for COVID-19 vaccines and testing.