Bill banning vaccine discrimination moves forward

The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure introduced a bill Monday that would prohibit discrimination in Louisiana over vaccination or immunity status.

House Bill 253, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, would amend several existing discrimination laws, adding the status of vaccination or immunity as a protected class.

In most laws, protected categories include race, sex, color, national origin, age, disability, and occasionally marital status, economic status, marital status and belief.

Edmonton’s bill originally applied to all discrimination laws, including those related to employment, education, loans, health care and insurance. It was amended in committee to not apply to discrimination in the rental and sale of accommodation.

The bill passed 9-4 with all Republicans in favor and four of the Democrats on the committee opposed.

“Discrimination, as we all know, is not a Louisiana value,” Edmonston said. “It has a negative effect on our economy and on our young and old. They will look for work elsewhere, leaving our state. They believe in equal access for all before the law.

“We believe whether or not to vaccinate should be a personal choice,” said Edmonston, who has publicly questioned the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. “And those who choose to rely on their natural immunity should not be coerced, manipulated, threatened with job loss, financial hardship or ashamed of getting a vaccine.”

Although the bill applies to all vaccines, most of the discussion has focused on COVID-19 vaccines.

Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, who has also criticized vaccination mandates, said she has heard of voters who have been hospitalized with COVID and their insurers have subsequently refused to cover expenses due to non-vaccination. Edmonton said his bill would prevent that from happening.

Several people who said they had been discriminated against because of their vaccination status testified in support of the bill.

Dr Kathy Willis said she was fired from her job at a healthcare facility for refusing to get vaccinated or fill out an exemption form.

Tommy Waller, a former Navy officer, said his refusal to get vaccinated prevented him from serving in the military and cost him his military medical benefits.

“I’m blessed that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the adversaries on the battlefield didn’t have the ability to pull me out of the fight,” Waller said. “This warrant took me out of the fight.”

The US military requires vaccinations to help keep units ready to deploy on short notice. Fewer than 12,000 of the country’s 1.6 million active duty and reserve personnel have refused COVID vaccines. About 3,800 of them have been withdrawn from service.

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, who is immunocompromised due to a kidney transplant, opposed Edmonton’s bill. He questioned why he should be forced to let unvaccinated people into his law firm.

Fiorella Trapani, an advocate for Health Freedom Louisiana, an anti-vaccine advocacy group, told Carter he believes someone who hasn’t been vaccinated poses a threat to their health.

Christopher Alexander argued that if the vaccine really worked, Carter could rely on his own vaccine status to protect him.

Like most vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines work best when as many people as possible are vaccinated, infectious disease experts say. About 60% of Louisiana residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Rep. Sam Jenkins, a Democrat from Shreveport, raised concerns about vaccine status reaching the same status as race.

“There’s not much a person can do about their race or gender,” Jenkins said. “There’s something you can do to get vaccinated, and I just don’t agree with taking it to the same level.”

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