Brief

Assembly votes advance two bills to limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates

By: - January 26, 2022 5:00 am
Pro health pro vaccine Barbie doll pond with COVID-19 balls

Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two bills aimed at blunting attempts to require COVID-19 vaccination passed the state Assembly Tuesday in what critics said was a disregard for public health and supporters called respect for personal privacy and freedom.

One bill would bar government agencies from discriminating against people without a COVID-19 vaccine if they need government services. The other bill would require employers that mandate the vaccine for workers to make an exception for people who have been infected with the novel coronavirus. 

The so-called natural immunity bill, AB-675, passed 59-34 on a strict party-line vote after a contentious debate. 

Speaking against the legislation, Rep Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) read a list of medical and health groups including the American Cancer Society, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Public Health Association that have registered their opposition. “The folks that oppose this bill are the medical community,” said Subeck.

Whatever immunity having had COVID-19 might confer, she added, “we do not know how long that immunity lasts. We don’t know how that immunity changes from variant to variant. We do not know what level of immunity is provided in the long term. What we do know is that individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 frequently get it again.”

Arguing for the bill, Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) dismissed the medical opposition as “the medical pharmaceutical industrial complex, who has a vested interest in making money off of vaccines.”

Nurses in the Legislature came down on both sides of the bill. 

Speaking in favor, Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield), recalled having her five children share a bathtub after the oldest got chickenpox so that “they would all have it at the same time.” She referred to articles from scientific journals that she said showed that people infected with the virus retained immunity for several months.

“Vaccines are good,” Rozar said. “But to give natural immunity a bad rap is wrong because there is scientific evidence that natural immunity occurs with COVID-19.”

Urging a vote against the bill, Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) referred to her own training and career in nursing and public health, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“If you think that your infection will provide long lasting immunity, I encourage you to speak to your physician,” Rodriguez said. Citing the American Medical Association, she added, “over 95% of physicians have been vaccinated. Many of those same physicians were on the front lines and got COVID. So these are the experts. These are the people who study this day in and day out.”

The non-discrimination bill, AB-316, passed earlier in Tuesday’s floor session with no opposition debate. The only speaker in its favor, Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa), said it was intended to support “folks who are worried about their private medical information having to be shared just to gain access to their government services,” such as FoodShare or other aid programs. No Wisconsin local or state agency has imposed such a requirement.

While the bill passed in committee on a party-line vote, the Assembly took a voice vote on the measure Tuesday, with no one’s individual position recorded. 

A spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said Neubauer and many other Democrats voted against the bill. Another Democrat who voted against the bill, Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), said he didn’t know of any Democrats who voted for it. 

Brostoff said the choice to accept a voice vote and not debate the measure was aimed at saving time in Tuesday’s lengthy agenda. “Both parties have already been on the record multiple times,” he said.

Neubauer issued a statement that criticized the GOP for advancing the two pieces of legislation. 

In order to build a strong, resilient economy, keep our small businesses open, and ensure our kids and educators can be safe in our classrooms, we need to all roll up our sleeves and get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.  “Assembly Republicans are making up their own facts and refusing to listen to public health professionals. Assembly Democrats, on the other hand, will continue to advocate for policies that stop the spread of COVID-19 and help working families to recover from the pandemic.”

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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