Bill to ban COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ clears Georgia House

Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, is the sponsor in the state House of Senate Bill 345, which would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination. But Rich said the bill does not question the effectiveness of the vaccine. “There has not been any anti-vaccine rhetoric coming from this well. I believe you have heard from every one of us who has spoken from this well that we have received the COVID-19 vaccine,” Rich said. “They are conflating the principle of whether vaccines are good and whether the government should mandate them.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, is the sponsor in the state House of Senate Bill 345, which would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination. But Rich said the bill does not question the effectiveness of the vaccine. “There has not been any anti-vaccine rhetoric coming from this well. I believe you have heard from every one of us who has spoken from this well that we have received the COVID-19 vaccine,” Rich said. “They are conflating the principle of whether vaccines are good and whether the government should mandate them.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Georgia House on Tuesday passed legislation on a party-line vote that would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Senate Bill 345, sponsored by Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, would not apply to health care providers. The bill was amended in the House to allow government agencies to also require vaccines if the state loses its legal challenge of President Joe Biden’s policy making federal contractors get vaccinated.

The ban on what is sometimes referred to as a “vaccine passport” would be lifted June 30, 2023. The measure passed 99-76, with Republicans supporting the bill.

Rep. Bonnie Rich, a Suwanee Republican and the sponsor of the legislation in the House, said the bill does not question the effectiveness of the vaccine, but instead makes sure Georgians have a choice about what they have injected into their bodies.

“There has not been any anti-vaccine rhetoric coming from this well. I believe you have heard from every one of us who has spoken from this well that we have received the COVID-19 vaccine,” Rich said. “They are conflating the principle of whether vaccines are good and whether the government should mandate them.”

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Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), foreground, looks up voting results in the House Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The Georgia House on Friday passed legislation on a party-line vote that would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), foreground, looks up voting results in the House Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The Georgia House on Friday passed legislation on a party-line vote that would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), foreground, looks up voting results in the House Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The Georgia House on Friday passed legislation on a party-line vote that would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

But Democrats said the measure would increase distrust of the vaccine while putting lives at risk.

“Public health measures like vaccination are hard,” said Snellville Democratic state Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, an epidemiologist. “We need to balance the combination of the protection we get from the vaccines, ourselves, in addition to our responsibility to our community on one hand, with our feelings that we are independent agents and face that it’s uncomfortable because medicine and public health has not earned trust from all Georgians.”

The bill was overhauled after its original version would have prohibited the government, including k-12 public schools, from requiring any vaccines. Currently, schools require students to get vaccines to protect from diseases such as measles, tuberculosis and chickenpox. At the time, Mullis said that version of the bill was introduced in error.

The amended bill now heads back to the Senate for its consideration.