Why Gov. Cox signed Utah’s workplace COVID vaccine mandate

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ABOVE: Gov. Cox’s full November news conference

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Earlier this week, Governor Spencer Cox signed legislation to require employers to provide exemptions to vaccine mandates despite previously saying he would veto such legislation.

In late September, the governor stated he would not support legislation blocking private businesses from issuing vaccine mandates, explaining, “It’s government still telling businesses what they can and can’t do, and I’m opposed to that.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Cox signed Senate Bill 2004 into law. The legislation gives those working in Utah the right to seek an exemption from their employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The law also prohibits employers from taking “adverse action” against employees who have not been vaccinated.

When asked why he approved legislation he had previously opposed, Gov. Cox says it was about “reducing the tension.” During his November monthly press conference, Cox notes this legislation lacks an “outright mandate prohibition,” which he explains he would veto. Instead, the legislation gives employers the right to enact vaccine mandates and employees the opportunity to opt-out.

WATCH: Gov. Cox explains decision to sign Utah’s workplace COVID vaccine mandate into law

“I felt that this was a good way to take some of the tension out of the room, while still encouraging people and businesses to have vaccine mandates but to allow for some exemptions for strongly-held views,” Cox explains. “We’re not accomplishing anything with the fighting that’s going on.”

He explains he and lawmakers are hopeful this legislation not only reduces the tension but encourages people to get the vaccine if they haven’t already. According to the governor, how some colleges and universities – including the University of Utah – enacted their vaccine mandates and allowed for exemptions.

Based on the numbers reported by the universities, the vaccine mandates and exemptions improved vaccination rates. Gov. Cox adds very few people utilized the vaccine exemptions and that the private businesses he has spoken with are appreciative of the legislation.

Utah recently joined multiple lawsuits over President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for large employers, including the most recent that focuses on health care workers. Attorney General Sean Reyes says the mandate on facilities that receive federal funding for treating patients exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and violates the Social Security Act’s prohibition on regulations that control the hiring and firing of health care workers.

Following a November 12 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, OSHA has announced it has suspended all activities related to the implementation and enforcement mandate requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or COVID-19 testing pending future developments in the litigation.

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