A push by N.H. House Republicans to create COVID-19 vaccine “conscientious objector” is facing opposition from traditional GOP allies, as well as the state’s top Republican.
The bill, HB 1210, requires businesses and educational facilities to automatically exempt employees and students from any vaccine mandate at their request.
“The employee or student’s written request shall simply state: ‘I, (employee/student name), hereby submit a request for a medical, religious, or conscientious objector exemption from the mandated vaccinations. [Employee/Student Signature and Date]’ and it shall be granted,” the bill reads.
It is an idea Gov. Chris Sununu finds laughable. Asked if he supports the legislation during last week’s COVID-19 press conference, Sununu replied, “Oh, so you’re talking about the bill that basically says if there’s a vaccine mandate you can decide that the mandate doesn’t apply to you? No.”
“A private business has the right to manage themselves in terms of vaccines how they want to do — just like they did before the pandemic,” Sununu said.
Supporters of the legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) and Rep. Timothy Lang (R- Sanbornton) among others, say the bill is simply restating rights Granite State citizens already have — or should.
“I call attention to P1 Article 2-b, our newest addition to our great New Hampshire Constitution, where it says, ‘An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.'” Lang told NHJournal. “By taking away this data point, we ensure that the most private of data (medial and religion) is free from governmental prying eyes for our citizens.”
“The intent of this bill is to protect the individual and religious freedoms of the citizens of New Hampshire ….Period!” said Rep. Howard Pearl (R-Loudon), an HB1210 supporter who is reportedly considering a race for state Senate this year.
And, Lang added, allowing businesses to require shots for employees violates “the natural rights of the right of conscience and religious freedom. Both of these rights are identified in the New Hampshire constitution as unalienable.”
Opponents argue the opposite: Private business owners are being stripped of their rights to decide what rules they need on the job.
David Juvet, Senior Vice President for Public Policy for the Business & Industry Association, sent a letter to legislators opposing the bill “because it is bad public policy to put constraints on private sector employers to implement health and safety measures in the workplace they deem necessary to protect their employees and customers.”
Gina Balkus with the Granite State Home Health & Hospice Association points out creating a ‘conscientious objector’ status makes a vaccine requirement in the businesses she represents meaningless.
“HB 1210 would not prevent employers from having a vaccine mandate policy, such as for the flu or COVID vaccine. However, it would require employers to have exemption policies that are so weak that any vaccine mandate would be useless,” she said. “Health care employers adopt infection control mandates to protect employees, vulnerable patients, and the communities they serve.”
Sununu echoed that concern during his press conference. “They’re trying to create a loophole to basically say that no one can mandate anything,” he said.
And, Juvet told NHJournal, he’s not surprised the governor is on their side on this issue.
“Gov. Sununu has always been a friend to the New Hampshire business community, so we’re pleased, but not surprised to see him continue to stand with us on this issue. This common-sense, free-market approach to business regulation that Gov. Sununu and our legislature have lived by for years is the reason New Hampshire is consistently rated as a top state for business development and prosperity.”
Polls show most Americans are with — or beyond — Sununu on the issue.
In a Morning Consult poll released last month, 56 percent of Americans said they supported government mandates on employers to require vaccines — a more extreme pro-mandate than Sununu’s. In a November UNH Survey, Granite Staters backed vaccination mandates for college students 54-38 percent. For middle and high school students, it was 53-45 percent.
“I don’t think the government should be mandating anything, but I think private businesses have the right to do what they want to do,” Sununu said. “And they always have.”
“The BIA and Osborne tell NHJournal they see a path forward on this issue. “ I was just speaking to members last week about amending this terminology to reflect language found in the New Hampshire Constitution.