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California lawmakers ditch idea of ​​statewide vaccine mandate

Democratic lawmakers have scrapped a controversial proposal to impose vaccines in the state, a move that would have been difficult to pass in the last few weeks of the legislative session and already provided fodder for the upcoming recall elections.

MP Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said she would not pursue the proposal this year after drafts of her bill were leaked last week, saying she needed more time to work out “the bill. as solid a law as possible “.

The draft text required Californians to prove they were vaccinated to enter many covered businesses and required public and private sector workers to be fully vaccinated or regularly tested.

The proposal was reportedly amended in Assembly Bill 455, which Wicks said was needed to help improve vaccination rates at a time when the Delta variant is spreading rapidly in the state.

However, the mandate ran into serious hurdles with less than two weeks before lawmakers adjourned for the year on September 10, including questions about how it would be implemented, how much it would cost, and – for Democratic lawmakers – whether that would affect Gov. Gavin Newsom. chances in the recall election for governor on September 14.

“We all want these tragic times to be over and the pandemic to be behind us – and the point is, vaccinations are our way there,” Wicks said in a statement Monday. “We have made significant progress over the past two weeks, and I hope this conversation ultimately leads to increased vaccination rates and fewer COVID deaths and intensive care stays.”

Newsom has not taken a public position on the proposal, but an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity previously said the governor’s office was monitoring the talks to help inform possible future efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Newsom’s office declined to comment on Wicks’ decision to put his proposal on hold.

The idea quickly became a lightning rod in the recall race, with Republican Kevin Kiley, a member of the Rocklin Coven, vowing to fight it.

Critics of vaccination warrants have staged regular protests throughout the pandemic, including Sunday when hundreds of people gathered near the Santa Monica Pier at an event billed as a “global rally for freedom “.

Assembly Member Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said in a tweet that Democratic lawmakers’ decision not to prosecute the bill “is a testament to the thousands of calls and emails made over the course of of the last two days “.

In an AB 455 draft obtained by The Times, the bill required anyone entering a bar, restaurant, gym, hotel, event center or sports arena to show full proof of vaccination. . It also required that all employees, job seekers and independent contractors provide proof that they are fully vaccinated or take a weekly COVID-19 test. Anyone too young to be vaccinated or a person with a valid medical reason would be exempt from the provisions, according to the draft text.

Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman said it was difficult to assess the potential impact of the proposal on the recall election because it had not been introduced into legislation and details had not been finalized.

“I could see the governor’s office not wanting this on their desk,” Stutzman said. “I could also see the legislative leaders thinking that this is a rather complicated issue to deal with on the fly. “

But Stutzman also noted that some polls have shown support for California vaccination mandates.

A CBS News poll in August found that 67% of California adults said they believe California companies should be allowed to force vaccines on their employees. In the same poll, 61% of adults said indoor stores, restaurants, or entertainment venues that cater to large numbers of people should require customers to be vaccinated to enter.

In a press release from Wicks’ office, key union and business leaders who participated in conversations around the wording of the proposal said they support efforts to increase immunization and will continue to work with the legislature. to do it.

The SEIU California and the California Labor Federation have said in statements that increasing vaccination rates will make workplaces safer.

“We look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to ensure safe workplaces and the health of workers as this horrific pandemic continues,” Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation said in a statement.

Jennifer Barrera, executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said the group would work with policymakers on a proposal to “increase vaccinations and help stop the spread of the virus without unnecessarily increasing costs or increasing costs. disputes against employers “.