Multiple bills working their way through the Wisconsin state Legislature would ban businesses from requiring customers to have COVID-19 vaccinations. Opponents of the legislation in the Senate Committee on Health Wednesday pushed back against claims that such mandates amount to discrimination.
Discussion on the bills comes as Wisconsin continues to experience heightened rates of COVID-19 transmission as the omicron variant spreads. As of Tuesday, the state's seven-day positivity rate was above 27 percent.
Vaccine mandates have become increasingly common as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Chicago is one of a number of U.S. cities to implement vaccine mandates for indoor spaces, and Minneapolis is following suit. Certain Wisconsin businesses have implemented their own requirements.
Wednesday's Senate Committee on Health included at least four different Republican-sponsored bills disallowing business vaccine mandates. The Wisconsin bills are part of a nationwide trend of state legislature bills that would nullify vaccine mandates.
State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, speaking on Assembly Bill 299, which prohibits vaccination proof requirements, defended the bill as protecting people's personal freedoms while calling the various vaccines available an "experimental drug." That bill passed out of the Assembly in June of last year.
Reuters, in a fact check last year, found that claims about the vaccines being experimental were not true. All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States have also been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Dozens of citizens came to the state Capitol to voice their support for the measures. Many said they were being discriminated against in their lives because of their decision to not receive the COVID-19 vaccines.
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"If a person chooses not to receive a vaccine, especially one that is still in very young development, because they are not comfortable or cannot for health reasons, they should not be forced to do so to access basic life activities," Felzkowski said.
State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said he disagrees with claims that vaccine mandates constitute discrimination.
"Making a choice of having a vaccine or not having a vaccine is not equal to discrimination based on a person's color of their skin, their national origin, things of that nature," said Carpenter.
Some of the bills go beyond business. Senate Bill 336, for example, would prohibit schools and universities from "discriminating against a student on the basis of the student's vaccination status." That same bill would prevent state agencies from discriminating on account of a person's vaccination status.
At the federal level, the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses has been stalled while the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on its legality. A decision is expected soon.
The state bills are unlikely to become law. Gov. Tony Evers is likely to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.