California bill would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers

A group of Democratic lawmakers pushing for stricter vaccination laws in the state introduced a bill Friday that would create a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for California workers.

Assembly Bill 1993 by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) would require employees and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment unless they have an exemption based on a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs.

Under the bill, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health would work with the state’s public health department on guidance for employers on what would constitute a valid exemption. Businesses would face a penalty for failing to comply, although the amount has yet to be determined, according to the bill’s language. Employers would have to notify the state that all workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 1, 2023.

The bill is the fourth piece of legislation introduced in the past several weeks by lawmakers who formed a vaccine working group this year.

Assembly Bill 1797 by Assembly member Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) would allow California school officials to more easily check student vaccine records by expanding access to a statewide immunization database. Senate Bill 866 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would allow children 12 and up to be vaccinated without parental consent. And SB 871 by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) would require the COVID-19 vaccine for all schoolchildren in the state.

The bills have set off a feverish debate familiar in Sacramento over contentious issues including a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children and a long-inflamed battle over vaccine laws.

Wicks’ workplace bill announced Friday comes after a plan last year to introduce a wide-ranging vaccine bill was abandoned in the final weeks of the legislative session. Wicks led those attempts, but said she ran out of time to craft “the strongest bill possible.” Draft language of Wicks’ bill, which was never formally introduced, called for Californians to show proof that they are vaccinated to enter many indoor businesses and required both public- and private-sector workers to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested.

“We all want these tragic times to be over, and to see the pandemic behind us — and the fact is that vaccinations are our pathway there,” Wicks said in a statement last year. “We’ve made significant progress over the past couple weeks, and I’m hopeful that this conversation will ultimately lead to an increase in vaccination rates, and a decrease in COVID deaths and ICU stays.”

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