Sen. Mike Lee says vaccine mandates are ‘sweeping’ and ‘unconstitutional’

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on the floor of the Senate, December 11, 2020 (Nexstar)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4)- Senator Mike Lee continued to oppose President Biden’s vaccine mandate on the Senate floor. For the 13th straight day, Lee spoke out against any measure that provided funding for the vaccine mandate. 

Lee accused Biden of making work “more difficult and less enticing” and “increasingly less possible.” He also called the president’s vaccine mandate “unconstitutional” and “sweeping,” blaming the mandates on forcing workers to quit their jobs or for getting back into the workforce.

In an article for the University of Miami Law Revue, Junior Staff Editor Ally Chamberlin says states are within their right to issue a vaccine mandate, citing the Supreme Court cases of Jacobson v. Massachusetts and Zutch v. King, where it was ruled that states and local health agencies could issue mandatory vaccinations.

On the federal level, Chamberlin said that mandates can get a bit tricky. However, she said the federal government has avenues it can use to constitutionally mandate a vaccine.

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on vaccination in the workplace, saying “an employer may require that their employees be vaccinated.” With regard to inquiring about vaccination status, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that HIPPA rules do not apply to employers or employee records.

“If an employer asks an employee to provide proof that they have been vaccinated, that is not a HIPAA violation, and employees may decide whether to provide that information to their employer.” the report from HHS said. HIPPA is only covered for specific organizations, mainly health care providers, health plans, and health care clearinghouses.

Despite these reports, Lee says he’s heard from 300 of his constituents who say they’re on the brink of losing their jobs because of the mandates. He also said that other constituents had other objections to being vaccinated, like religious and moral objections. 

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake issued a statement from Bishop Oscar Solis on Aug. 20 saying that the church would not issue religious exemptions for getting vaccinated. The statement also said getting vaccinated is in line with the church’s teachings.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is also negating its members from getting a religious exemption from getting vaccinated, saying in the church handbook, “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”

Still, Lee said people were worried that the vaccine mandates would not allow them to keep their businesses open. He said of one business that they were not against encouraging their employees to get vaccinated but simply that mandating a vaccine would hurt their business. 

“They know that some of their workforce would quit if the mandate were enforced,” Lee said. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the unemployment rate in the state as of August is at 2.6%, which is lower compared to the national average of 5.2%. Utah’s job growth since 2019 went up 3.8% versus the national average which actually dropped -2.8%.

Lee made it clear that he was not against the vaccine, but only against the mandate.

“These vaccines are helping countless people avoid the harms associated with COVID-19,” he said. However, he said the mandates were causing harm to the economy.

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