Vaccine passport prohibition bill moves forward in its second year

Jan 24, 2023, 5:52 PM
House Business and Labor Committee hearing public comments on H.B. 131 (KSL-TV's Michael Houck)...
House Business and Labor Committee hearing public comments on H.B. 131 (KSL-TV's Michael Houck)
(KSL-TV's Michael Houck)

SALT LAKE CITY —  On Tuesday afternoon, HB131, the vaccine passport prohibition bill, received a favorable recommendation from the House Business and Labor Committee with a 10 to 2 vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Walt Brooks, said in the committee hearing that during the COVID-19 pandemic, HIPAA laws were becoming blurred, and he would like to un-blur them.

“All of a sudden, those (HIPAA) laws became all gray and fuzzy, and no one cared anymore,” Brooks said. “This bill basically takes us back to that time, re-brightens those lines that what is protective health information is just that, your private protected health information.”

However, one of the committee members, Rep. Norm Thurston, worried about this bill opening the doorway for small businesses unable to refuse to serve customers who are not under a protective class.

“I will give an example, if I don’t want to bake a cake for somebody, I should be able to refuse to bake the cake,” Thurston said. “But in this circumstance, I can’t refuse them if they don’t have a vaccination card.”

Brooks responded that the government shouldn’t be telling businesses what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and business owners have different ways of controlling who they want to serve.

“For example, they can take their temperature or have them go get a COVID test. This doesn’t prevent that. This is strictly on, in my opinion, the un-American way of showing your papers to go to a public accommodation,” Brooks said. “You can still bar people. If someone has the sniffles and doesn’t look good, you can tell them to leave your business.”

Thurston continued his worries about the bill with the legislature chasing the next issue that businesses should be able to refuse service for.

“You can say no, it doesn’t, and it’s isolated to this, but it is what it is. It opens that door,” Thurston expressed.

H.B. 131’s sponsor, Rep. Walt Brooks. (KSL-TV’s Michael Houck)

Brooks said the what-if scenarios don’t matter, and he can’t predict the future, but he wants the committee to focus on what’s happening now with vaccine passports.

“The thing I am trying to address is before we had COVID, what was the standard of business, and how did we operate? And this goes and reminds us of the laws that are already in action. We did not ask anyone for their papers, and no one would even think of that,” Brooks said.

All public commenters agreed with Brooks’s views, as no one spoke against the bill, with most being business owners. Some said they don’t want to be asking customers for vaccine information, while others cited the US and Utah constitutions with the legality of doing so.

“We don’t want to have to be collecting, and checking, and being this regulating body for vaccines. We just don’t want to,” said one business owner. “We don’t want to be in charge of that. We didn’t like it when we had to during COVID. We don’t want to continue to do things like that.”

Before the bill was voted on, the lone Democrat in the meeting, Rep. Brain King, expressed his concern about this bill moving too fast to the house floor.

“I will say this, either the business community and the public health community are good with this bill with the way you changed it, representative, or they need to get off their rear-ends and they need to let us know as policymakers why we should be opposed to this bill,” King said.

Thurston also agreed with King about the “unintended consequences” of the bill and wished they had more time to look it over to ensure no one was being harmed.

King and Thurston were the only two representatives that voted no for the bill to move forward.

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Vaccine passport prohibition bill moves forward in its second year