Conspiracy-filled House hearing held on vaccine mandate ban

Bill would allow ‘aggrieved’ employee lawsuits

By: - August 19, 2021 4:04 pm

State Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan) chairs the House Committee on Workforce, Trades and Talent, Aug. 19 | Screenshot

A GOP bill to preemptively prohibit mandatory employee vaccinations saw the light of day Thursday, in a House committee hearing saturated with COVID-19 conspiracy theories and anti-vaxxer rhetoric.

House Bill 4471, introduced by state Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), would create the “informed consent in the workplace act” to prevent employers from “discriminating” against individuals who have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and/or pertussis.

The state has not issued vaccination mandates. Some employers, including Spectrum Health and Henry Ford Health System, have issued their own vaccine requirements for employees.

The hearing comes as COVID-19 cases are again jumping in Michigan, mostly due to the more contagious Delta variant. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported Wednesday that a total of 925,377 Michiganders have tested positive and 20,076 have died from the virus.

“We’re now [at] over 100 cases per million people, which is 600% more than we were when we were at our June 26 low. More than half of the counties in the state are at high transmission level and most others are at substantial,” Sarah Lyon-Callo, DHHS director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health, said during a Wednesday briefing.

Michigan’s COVID-19 transmission level, Aug. 18, 2021 | DHHS chart

The legislation was originally introduced on March 9 before being referred to the House Committee on Workforce, Trades and Talent, chaired by state Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan). The committee discussed and heard testimony about the bill for nearly two hours on Thursday, but did not ultimately hold a vote.

“My constituents, and people around the state are being mocked, threatened and harassed and shamed because they are exercising their right to not be forced to put something into their body,” Griffin said. “Fear is a powerful thing.

“My constituents have been calling me in tears … and they’re angry because apparently only one side of this vaccination issue and discussion is acceptable,” Griffin added.

Employers would also be prohibited from retaliating against said employee if that worker files a complaint under the act or participates in any action or investigation concerning the act.

Allor’s legislation would also allow those “aggrieved by a violation” of the act to bring a civil suit against the employer to obtain injunctive relief and damages.

It is shameful that Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature would promote this reckless legislation and give oxygen to deadly disinformation and conspiracy theories. Lives will be lost if this legislation is passed into law.

– Dr. Farhan Bhatti

“Anyone supporting this dangerous bill is either seriously misinformed or deliberately trying to sabotage individual and public health efforts,” said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Make no mistake, the vast majority of credible doctors and health experts recommend taking the safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19 unequivocally, and understand why employers would choose to require safe vaccinations to protect both their employees and their customers.”

Under the act, employers would also not be able to require unvaccinated workers to wear a face mask, disclose the person’s unvaccinated status or display a “mark” on their arm distinguishing their vaccination status. 

A common anti-vax conspiracy theory is that unvaccinated people will eventually have to be marked in some way on their arm to distinguish them from the vaccinated, which anti-vaxxers compare to the stars of David and tattoos Nazis made Jews display during the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has condemned Holocaust comparisons and imagery used by COVID conspiracists.

“It is shameful that Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature would promote this reckless legislation and give oxygen to deadly disinformation and conspiracy theories. Lives will be lost if this legislation is passed into law,” Bhatti said.

All speakers who testified during the hearing espoused misleading or demonstrably false statements about vaccines and COVID-19. Most have been regulars at anti-vax protests and events in Michigan.

Science teacher Christina Parks testifies before the House Committee on Workforce, Trades and Talent, Aug. 19 | Screenshot

One speaker, Christina Parks, is a science teacher for a Grand Rapids-based Christian homeschool organization with a postdoctoral degree in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan.

Amid other false claims Parks made about COVID-19 vaccinations, she referred to mask-wearing as a “biochemical nightmare” and “metabolic nightmare” that exacerbates inflammatory diseases and increases risk of cancer, diabetes and more — none of which is scientifically accurate.

Parks also argued that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be taken because it does not guarantee against transmission or breakthrough cases. The goal of vaccines is to prevent individuals from getting the virus or becoming seriously ill — which the COVID-19 vaccines are doing.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports that 98% of COVID-19 cases from Jan. 15 to July 21 in the state have been from unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people.

No vaccine is 100% effective and there are still rare breakthrough cases for the fully vaccinated, but vaccines have been proven to be the most effective form of protection against disease.

Democrats on the committee pointed out that many businesses have spoken out against the bill, but Allor argued that the issue at hand is more about individual choice than what businesses specifically want.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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