Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes answers a question during a debate in Oct. 2020. Reyes is among two dozen
Republican attorneys general threatening to sue President Joe Biden if his proposed COVID-19 vaccination requirements for large companies takes effect. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Calling President Joe Biden’s plan “disastrous,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is among two dozen Republican attorneys general threatening to sue the president if his proposed vaccination mandate for large companies takes effect.
The 24 attorneys general sent a seven-page letter to the president Thursday warning that a lawsuit will follow the implementation of the proposed requirement on private-sector employees to either get a COVID-19 shot, submit to weekly testing, or be fired.
“I am committed to continuing leading with my colleagues to push back and fight this mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” Reyes said in a statement.
“Both employers and employees in Utah, with unprecedented fervor, have flooded my office with messages of dire concern and extreme opposition to the proposed mandate. I firmly agree.”
On Tuesday, Eric Moutsos rallied opponents of the vaccine mandate on the Utah Revival Facebook page, posting, “PLEASE CALL SEAN REYES. He’s barely getting calls and he wants to sue Biden for the mandate but he needs to know there’s support.”
Moutsos, who organized events to protest business closures during the pandemic, claimed in the post to the group’s more than 31,000 online members the “mandate is targeted to hamper our religious liberty, our freedom, our health independence, etc.,” and that a friend had been “told that only a few people have called the AG prior to the weekend.”
Biden announced a six-point initiative last week to boost vaccinations, improve access to testing and make coronavirus treatments more widely available to slow the surge of COVID-19.
Under the plan, companies with 100 or more employees would have to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly coronavirus testing. All federal workers also would be required to get the shot.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don’t comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” Biden said last week. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA-approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”
Reyes said Biden’s proposed requirements are not only illegal but “offensive” on a number of levels, including that they violate constitutional separation of powers and reasonable notions of federalism, and vastly expand the “invasive” reach of federal agencies under the guise of emergency powers.
In a statement last week, Reyes said Utah has taken a responsible approach to the pandemic and doesn’t need an “autocratic” mandate from the White House.
Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation also quickly condemned the president’s plan as unconstitutional, heavy-handed and arrogant. They also said it’s likely to backfire, creating more vaccine hesitancy and distrust of the federal government.
The attorneys general say some workers will quit their jobs rather than comply, further straining an already tight labor market.
“Your plan is disastrous and counterproductive,” they wrote. “From a policy perspective, this edict is unlikely to win hearts and minds — it will simply drive further skepticism.”
But one major company has already acted on Biden’s mandate.
Procter & Gamble, owner of some of the most recognized household brands in the world, announced vaccination requirements starting Nov. 1 for its more than 101,000 U.S.-based employees, citing Biden’s directive and its own approach to safety during the pandemic.
P&G is requiring employees to provide proof of full vaccination, have a company-approved exemption in place or provide weekly, negative COVID-19 test results. Workers would have to arrange and pay for weekly testing on their own time.
Members of the Utah Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee heard Wednesday from a group proposing legislation described as intended to keep businesses in the state from becoming “an enforcement arm of medical policy.”
Kristen Chevrier, who has spoken out against COVID-19 vaccines and was appearing on behalf of a new organization, Utah Open for Business, testified that the group’s proposal “is not for or against vaccinations or other health interventions. It merely protects business owners from being coerced into bearing cost and responsibility, and it protects employee privacy.”
The panel took no action after the presentation, although the committee chairman, Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, said he was open to further discussion. Several committee members sympathized with the sometimes boisterous and largely maskless crowd that overflowed into another room.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he believes Biden’s mandate is unconstitutional and will be overturned and acknowledged what he called the “pent-up frustration” in the room.
“This is your forum to be able to vent,” Anderegg said, adding, “many of us are on your side.”
Both employers and employees in Utah, with unprecedented fervor, have flooded my office with messages of dire concern and extreme opposition to the proposed mandate. I firmly agree.
–Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who, like Anderegg, said he has had COVID-19 and is vaccinated against the virus, was more blunt.
“Nobody should make anybody get vaccinated,” he said, describing the decision whether to get the shots as a personal choice. “If you choose not to get vaccinated and you get sick and you die, that’s on you. That’s your call.”
Reyes and his GOP colleagues contend Biden’s mandates are not tailored to real-world business approaches such as telecommuting and threaten jobs when the workforce is most vulnerable financially.
“We call on President Biden to withdraw his proposed standards. Forcing them on the business community will be disastrous from a legal, policy, and financial standpoint and it will further divide America,” Reyes said.
The attorneys general argue that history has shown that the courts are skeptical of the use of OSHA emergency temporary standards because of concerns about federalism and the separation of powers.
Reyes said the president’s one-size-fits-almost-all approach makes it clear that he intends to use the OSHA law as a pretext to impose an unprecedented, controversial public health measure on a nationwide basis that only incidentally concerns the workplace.
Utah was joined on the letter by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
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