MADISON – Wisconsin lawmakers are advancing a slate of bills that would bar business owners, university leaders or government officials from requiring the COVID-19 vaccination or treating unvaccinated people differently.
An Assembly committee heard hours of testimony on the five proposals, one of which Gov. Tony Evers suggested Tuesday he would not sign into law.
The bill, Assembly Bill 299, would forbid any government official or business owner from requiring any person to provide proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of receiving services, accessing buildings, participating in events or for any business transaction.
Vaccination rules are being considered by some Wisconsin colleges to ensure COVID-19 spread is contained on campus, and by hospital officials to ensure patients and health care workers stay healthy.
“Over the course of the last year we’ve almost normalized asking people their own personal medical decisions surrounding COVID,” bill author Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said. “That has never been a normal part of society.”
Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, questioned what the purpose of such rules are given a new law that prevents businesses from being held liable if someone on their grounds gets sick.
Evers on Tuesday said, “it’s a reasonable request of businesses to make those requests.”
“If you’re a health care institution, you may want to ask those questions,” Evers said. “I do believe in some instances it’s a reasonable request so that’s my starting point. I’ll take a look at the bill when it’s finally put in front of me.”
The Wisconsin Medical Society, which represents doctors, says the rules help ensure patients and workers in hospitals don’t get sick.
“Those whose lives are most endangered by COVID-19 — the elderly and patients with compromised immune systems or other conditions — deserve to have access to health care services in facilities where precautions have been taken against easily-spread viruses like SARS-CoV-2,” Mark Grapentine, chief policy and advocacy officer, said in written testimony against the bill.
Grapentine said employers could use the rules to “create a safe working environment for employees and members of the public who interact at a workplace.”
“Health care facilities face special challenges in treating patients while minimizing the potential spread of disease,” he said. “Vaccinations are helping to prevent further spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so it follows that health care employers should be allowed to have the option to inquire about vaccination status before allowing access to their facilities.”
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Two lawmakers compared the rules to Cold War-era Russia or Nazi Germany.
“In whose world would you ever think you would need papers in the United States?” Felzkowski said. “That kind of sounds like… Russia and the Cold War. This to me is beyond unbelievable, but there’s been a lot of things in this last year that seem a little unbelievable.”
“Or Germany back in the ’40s,” Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, said.
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