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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: October 14, 2021 03:39 PM
From: Representative Paul Schemel
To: All House members
Subject: Vaccine Mandate Exemption Options Act
We have all received phone calls and messages from constituents who are concerned about the prospect of mandated COVID-19 vaccines. Regardless of what one considers to be the merits of any specific objection to vaccination, we all understand that vaccine mandates would have a potentially serious impact on the ability of certain sectors of our economy and government to deliver necessary goods and services.

Recognizing that there are alternatives to vaccination which can provide a reasonable degree of public safety, in the near future I will be introducing legislation designed to ensure that private and government entities have options should a state or local regulation, order or ordinance require vaccines for employees, agents, visitors or customers. The additional options offered in this legislation would be positive COVID antibody results or recent negative COVID-19 test results and would only be applicable if there were a state or local vaccine mandate.

Thank you for your consideration in cosponsoring this legislation.  
Q & A
I have businesses calling me because they are concerned about losing employees if they have to impose vaccine mandates, what would this legislation do?
This legislation would give businesses the ability to offer their employees less invasive options should they face a state or local vaccine mandate, thereby making it significantly more likely that they will retain their full workforce rather than lose those employees who will not accept the vaccine.
Would this legislation prohibit a private business from imposing its own mandate?
This legislation limits government, not businesses; it is designed to give businesses more options, not fewer. In turn, businesses will be able to offer their employees more options, not fewer should they face a state or local mandate. This legislation does not change any rights or privileges which businesses or employees already had under Pennsylvania law.
Would this legislation impact the federal mandates?
Because of the nature of the federal vaccine mandates, state legislation can apply only to orders, regulations or ordinances coming from the state and local government.
Why not just prohibit government vaccine mandates altogether?
As we have seen, mandates can spring from a variety of origins, e.g., the recent mandate from the Sec. of Health concerning masks in schools. It is difficult to predict every possible basis for a vaccine mandate therefore it is difficult to construct a blanket prohibition which would apply in all circumstances.
It is conceivable that any vaccine mandate would be based on the government’s general authority to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public. This is language found in the organizational mandates for most state agencies as well as the municipal codes.  This legislation is designed to offer options rather than prohibitions in order to address the public health and safety elements of these organizational mandates, making the legislation less open to legal challenge.

This legislation does not preclude the legislature from also considering a separate bill which would prohibit all vaccine mandates. A prohibition bill would be a strong statement from the General Assembly, and it would also face a certain veto from the governor. It is important for the General Assembly to make strong statements and in addition it is also important to provide options in order to keep our workforce strong. This legislation does the latter and there are other bills in circulation which do the former, they are not mutually exclusive.
Won’t the governor just veto this if it is passed?
Although this legislation could put limiting conditions on an order from the executive branch, it could also put limitations on an order from another state agency, such as the Attorney General, or any of the over 2,700 local government entities, none of which is under the governor’s control. The facts are these, although federal vaccine mandates have likely increased vaccination rates, they have also resulted in some workers leaving jobs in critical industries. Mandates cause pressure on these industries due to a lack of adequate staffing. Gov. Wolf has not imposed a vaccine mandate. Appreciating the potential for loss of staff in certain industries, the governor may be just as concerned as our businesses that a governmental entity outside of his control would impose a vaccine mandate.
If I believe that vaccines are the best protection, why would I still support this legislation?
“Better” is sometimes the enemy of “good”. Strategies for reducing the spread of COVID-19 are based on the law of averages and necessarily require a weighing of risks and benefits. Vaccines offer a good defense, but they do not offer 100% protection. If we already accept that communal activities can continue so long as people are vaccinated, we already accept the corresponding risk of infection when vaccines don’t work. We are willing to accept this risk because the societal benefit of the communal activities are so important.

By opening the door to additional protective measures we may increase the risk in limited circumstances, but we also reduce the overall risk by gaining more public participation. Even if antibody and regular infection testing are less effective than vaccines, and that is a proposition currently without proof, enhanced testing is significantly more effective than doing nothing. And, if we force individuals who refuse to get vaccinated out of the workplace in industries which cannot afford to lose any workers, the loss of just a few has an amplified impact. As just one example, consider the exponential impact on the community when a daycare center cannot open because it loses just one or two employees

Introduced as HB1986