(The Center Square) – If a private entity imposes a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in West Virginia, the business would need to provide medical and religious exemptions if legislation proposed by Gov. Jim Justice passes.
Justice amended the legislative calendar on Wednesday to include the proposal. The General Assembly is meeting in a special session, primarily to pass legislation to redraw state legislative district maps and U.S. House district maps.
“Now, I stand behind the rights of our private businesses, but at the same time, they need to comply with the law of the land,” Justice said in a statement. “This is a common sense bill because federal law already says you have to allow for these exemptions. Our military has mandated vaccines. However, they are allowing these exemptions to be claimed. Our own Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, has written a legal opinion which confirms that we must offer these exemptions.”
The governor opposes government-enforced mandates, but has said he would be against any bills that sought to block private entities from imposing their own mandates. House Republican leadership have urged the state to take action against President Joe Biden’s attempt to force private entities with 100 or more employees to impose mandates or require testing, but the caucus is divided on whether the state should ban private vaccine mandates.
“We’re joining many other states that are clarifying this law, but we are not joining other states in restricting businesses from choosing what is best for them,” Justice said. “This bill does not affect any of the other vaccines that are currently mandated in our public schools like the vaccines for mumps, measles, and rubella, all of which have been around for a long time. This is only for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Although the governor does not intend to restrict businesses, he said it is not right that people are being fired from their jobs over refusal to take the vaccine. Alternatively, the governor has also urged every eligible West Virginian to get the vaccine and has established incentive programs to increase the state’s relatively low numbers.
The governor also introduced an amendment for a bill to appropriate $4 million to backfill the Victims of Crime Act grants. This money goes toward services, such as counseling and court advocacy, for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other crimes.