FILE - COVID-19 vaccine

(The Center Square) – The West Virginia legislature completed its special session after passing legislation that grants certain employees exemptions from privately instituted COVID-19 vaccine mandates and legislation on redistricting.

An amended version of House Bill 335, which grants vaccine exemptions, narrowly passed the Senate 17-16 and passed the House more easily, 66-24. The bill, which was originally proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, received support from most Republicans, but received some pushback from within the party and staunch opposition from Democratic leadership.

The legislation, if signed by the governor, would exempt a person from any public or private mandates if he can prove he has natural antibodies or has recovered from COVID-19. A person would also be exempt if he can demonstrate a valid medical or religious objection to the vaccine.

To receive a medical exemption, the person would need to provide a certification signed by a physician or an advanced practice registered nurse who conducted an in-person examination and concluded there is a specific precaution to the vaccine for that person. The religious exemption can be met by the employee providing a notarized certification executed by himself, which states he has a religious belief that prevents him from getting the vaccine.

Under the law, an employer would be prohibited from penalizing or discriminating against a current or prospective employee who does not have the vaccine if he has met one of the exemptions. This includes a prohibition on firing that employee, refusing to hire a person or withholding bonuses, pay raises or promotions. If an employee believes these rights have been violated, he can seek injunctive relief in a court.

The legislation also states that if any aspect of the law is ruled unconstitutional or invalid, the provision is severable. This means a court case that overturns one aspect of the law would not abolish the other aspects of the law.

Supporters of the legislation argued the bill upholds medical and religious rights that are already protected under state and federal law and protects individual liberty. Opponents argued that the exemptions are too broad, that they could be at odds with public health interests and could violate federal regulations that are expected to go into effect later this year.

In addition to the vaccine mandate, lawmakers approved three redistricting bills that reflect the most recent census numbers. The legislature approved new Congressional districts, which put Republican incumbent Reps. Alex Mooney and David McKinley into the same district because the state’s representation shrank from three to two members. They also passed new House district lines that create 100 single-member districts and new Senate lines that reflect in-state population changes.

The legislature also passed a billion-dollar broadband investment plan, which is designed to increase availability to 200,000 more West Virginians.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.