The ‘dangerous’ mandated vaccine bill is on its way to the House

HB 1210 raises concerns for hospitals, nursing homes and employers

Any employers who accept public funding and mandates vaccines must exempt employers who refuse reasons of conscience, but they could try to work out a reasonable accommodation with them, if a bill that the House Labor Committee recommended for passage becomes law.

HB 1210 — an amalgamation of three of many anti-vaccination bills before the committee — does not exempt hospitals and nursing homes, which are mandated by the federal government to require all their workers to get vaccinated or risk losing millions of dollars of federal funds.  And a section of the bill makes it clear that the bill would include institutions of higher education.

The bill applies to “any public or private employer that receives public funds from the federal or state government or any subdivision thereof, whether such funds are in the form of payment for contractual services, grants, or in any other form however denominated, and irrespective of the amount or level of such funding.”

Many of the previous bills restricted all employer vaccination policies, and some banned required masking and testing for both workers and customers alike.

“We did not make this apply for private employers,” said Rep Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington.  “On this committee, it is our job not to get into employer and employee relationships whenever possible.”

Federal contractors of a certain size are also required to vaccinate workers, but that’s held up by the courts.  An Occupational Safety and Health mandate for large employers was tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court upheld the vaccination mandate for employers that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding, which would include nearly all hospitals and nursing homes.  The federal mandate allowed medical and religious exemption but not for reasons of conscience.  And that’s where most of the debate was focused on during the committee’s executive session on Wednesday.

“The net exemption of right of conscience and religious exemption are the same,” said Turcotte.

“This bill is one of the most dangerous bills we’ve dealt with,” countered Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham. “It puts at risk all the Medicare and Medicaid funding that goes to our hospitals and nursing homes, and losing that funding is a gigantic economic risk for the state … But it’s also a medical risk.  What this does is that, anyone who doesn’t feel like getting vaccinated against any disease can simply say I don’t want to … and we see infection diseases go up.”

The bill does say that “such a request for exemption shall be granted,” but goes on to say, “The employer may then work with the employee to see if an agreement for a reasonable accommodation can be reached.”  Republicans interpreted it to mean — though it is not stated in the bill — that a company can still fire an employee if it jeopardizes a large point of its funding, or perhaps assign him or her to a position where there is little contact with customers or fellow workers.

Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket, indicated that this might lead to a lot of litigation, but Labor Committee Chairman Rep. Will Infantine, R-Manchester, praised this language as “threading the needle” and still allows the employee to make a decision.   “I don’t think anyone is foolish enough to think we are going to take $200 million worth of funds for hospitals and nursing homes and put them all out of business.”

But then he added, “It is narrowly written, and a lawyer would have to look at it. I’d admit to that. But I think we did our best to keep out of the bill the relationship between the medical institutions and where they get their funds.  Maybe it is not clear to some.”

Infantine cast the deciding 11-10 vote recommending the bill’s passage. It is expected to be voted on by the full house next week.

“We disagree with the majority position,” said Paula Minnehan, senior vice president of State Government Regulations for the NH Hospital Association, when asked by NH Business Review. “We do believe with federal rules that this puts federal funds at risk.”

“Our feeling is this is an anti-employer bill,” commented David Juvet, senior vice president of public policy at the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire. “In some ways, the amendment makes it worse.  You can’t question a request; you just have to grant it and then you have this new reasonable accommodation process.  It’s just confusing, and will end in a lot of litigation.”

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