PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted 9-4 Wednesday to bar companies from refusing to serve customers who are not vaccinated.
HB 2190, crafted by Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, also would allow employees to refuse demands by their bosses that they get inoculated without fear of being fired. And it would specifically preclude any effort in Arizona to have what has been proposed by the Biden administration as a universal “vaccine passport’’ that people could use to show they have immunity and get the products or services they want.
“I’m somebody that has a respect for an individual to choose whether or not they want to inject something into their body,’’ Roberts told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I don’t think it’s right for a business to basically have the capability of refusing service to individuals and having them participate in commerce and things of that nature simply because they choose not to do so.’’
But the idea of the state telling businesses they can’t turn away unvaccinated customers drew derision from Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix. He pointed out that many of the people who support this legislation are the same people who have backed the ability of businesses to deny service to customers based on their sexual orientation.
And attorney Don Johnson testified that legislators are treading into areas of free enterprise in trying to tell companies what policies they can and cannot have about their employees.
“This bill would throw the boss into jail if the boss decides that this kind of safety measure is important for his business,’’ he said. “I don’t think the legislature should assume the obligation of telling employers how to run their business.’’
What appears to have sparked the issue is an official in the Biden administration saying it is working on creating some standards for people to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
On one hand, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there will not be any federal mandate for people to obtain such credential. Nor would there be any centralized vaccine database, she said.
But the president himself has said that life could be back to normal by Christmas, with the idea that these kinds of credentials could help.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said creation of these documents could lead to violations of various federal laws.
That includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act whose key provisions protect individual medical records. Allowing businesses to demand to see someone’s “vaccine passport,’’ she said, essentially forces them to disclose some of that information.
Adding to that, said Townsend, is that this is not even a vaccine that’s been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Instead, all the versions are currently being distributed under an “emergency use authorization, essentially a procedure allowing the FDA to allow the use of unapproved medical products in an emergency.
And now, Townsend said, there is a push to have people prove they agreed to take this vaccine to participate in commerce.
“For those who can’t, or won’t, does that not create a different class of society where those with the vaccine have privileges that those without do not have?’’ she asked.
Roberts told colleagues he thinks of this in the same way as old movies where someone approached a checkpoint and constantly being asked for their papers. This, he said, would be “tenfold worse.’’
“You want to go to a concert, you want to go to a movie, you want to buy a ticket for anything, you just go in and buy a candy bar, a soda, they can ask you for your papers,’’ he said. “Practically speaking, mechanically speaking, that’s just unacceptable and that’s not a line I want to see crossed in the state of Arizona.’’
The measure does have provisions that have raised some questions.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said the legislation appears to even preclude those who hire doctors and nurses from requiring them to be vaccinated. Roberts acknowledged that’s the case.
But he did say that perhaps there needs to be some provision to allow the employers of first responders like ambulance attendants to get vaccinated for at least things like Hepatitis B which can be spread through things like blood or body fluids from one person to another.
Townsend, who once compared called efforts to ensure that school children are vaccinated to Communism, said the whole push for vaccination is wrong.
“I’m afraid for our society,’’ she said.
“I’m afraid for where we’re going because we have completely abandoned all sense of human rights because we’re afraid of a virus,’’ Townsend said. “It’s time to say ‘no.’”
The measure now goes to the full Senate. If approved there, it would still need to be approved by the House which has never seen this language.