The Georgia Senate approved a measure Tuesday to prohibit schools and most state and local government agencies from mandating the coronavirus vaccine.
The legislation, Georgia State Senate Bill 1, passed the state Senate 31-21. The bill would not apply to healthcare providers subject to federal requirements that employees must be vaccinated to continue receiving federal payments.
A one-year ban on vaccine requirements was enacted last year, and this bill would make that measure permanent.
„We have lived for a year under the previous version of this law,“ said Republican state Sen. Greg Dolezal, the bill’s main sponsor. „That law is set to sunset this summer so we just removed the sunset and said that we’re never going to have a day in Georgia where governments refuse services to its constituents based on whether or not they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.“
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Dolezal said he does not believe the government should „discriminate against citizens“ based on their vaccination status.
The current one-year ban passed in 2022 is set to expire on June 30.
„We know that there’s been a movement building in America to demonize vaccinations and do it in the name of individual rights,“ Democrat Sen. Nan Orrock said, adding that lawmakers who voted for the new bill are „fundamentally signing on to the anti-vaccination movement“ and tying the government’s hands should COVID-19 worsen again.
The bill bans state agencies, local governments, schools and colleges from requiring proof of vaccination.
„When we throw bills up on the floor and take votes on them in the General Assembly that result in further undermining the public’s faith in vaccines and in public health measures, I think that poses a danger to all of us in the long run,“ Orrock said. „It is not wise.“
Republican Sen. Ben Watson, a medical doctor, said a mandate is not needed since the virus has become less severe.
„The science certainly has evolved, the disease certainly has evolved,“ Watson said.
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Democrats, meanwhile, claim COVID-19 is less lethal thanks to vaccines and other public safety measures, and that there is no guarantee the virus will remain that way.
The bill now heads to the state House for consideration.
Dolezal has said he plans to introduce a separate bill to make the current five-year ban on school mask mandates permanent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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