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Opinion: Can Utah do anything to challenge Biden’s vaccine mandate?

The COVID-19 shot requirement would establish a precedent. Expect more federal incursions, such as a national minimum wage

A notice explains that proof of vaccination is required to dine inside is seen at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan in New York.
A notice explains that proof of vaccination is required to dine inside is seen at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan in New York.
Seth Wenig, Associated Press

With the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress seeking to remake U.S. society with mandates and vast new programs, we’re seeing many states push back against federal encroachment and presidential executive orders. We explore these lessons in federalism.

Utah’s GOP Legislature is resisting the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees. Will the legislative effort be successful?

Pignanelli: “The tough guys at OSHA are finally treating the plague with the same seriousness as not being able to stand on the last rung of a stepladder.” Stephen Colbert

The proposed directive from Biden to OSHA is much like the all-you-can-eat buffet at a large family restaurant — there is something for everyone to either relish or find disgusting.

Many large businesses believe the potential rule could assist them in increasing the vaccination percentage in their operations. But other companies are frightened that valuable employees will leave to avoid the jab. Vaccination advocates, concerned about the rates of acceptance among Utahns, support the decree enthusiastically. Conversely, many vaccinated citizens are aligned with anti-vaxxers in a shared alarm of government overreach. Incredibly, all this emotion is generated over a rule yet to be published.

Utah has a 174-year-old strained relationship with the federal government, and therefore passionate statements by citizens and their officials are expected. The vaccination mandate is a fertile cornucopia for speeches. Legal experts are falling on either side of whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirement is constitutional. But that will not prevent serious consideration of potential actions by Utah to prevent implementation, which will be difficult. However, the practical effect of the mandate is already occurring as some organizations are using this as a leverage to jab their employees.

The potential downside is a hardening of antagonism that will jeopardize future vaccination efforts as the coronavirus becomes just another disease plaguing our society. Unfortunately, not everything in a big buffet tastes great.

Webb: Good for the Legislature for fighting a dramatic federal incursion into an arena where it has no business. Certainly, if business owners want to impose vaccination mandates on their employees, they should be free to do so. Employees can choose to remain employed or not. But the federal government should not be forcing nationwide employee mandates on business owners. Even moderates like Gov. Spencer Cox oppose such broad federal encroachment.

The vaccine mandate would establish a terrible precedent. More federal incursions are sure to follow, such as a national minimum wage that doesn’t account for the diversity of the country. The broad mandate also doesn’t recognize individual circumstances, such as employees who work from home and don’t interact in person with customers or other employees.

Republicans control many state legislatures across the country, and some of these states are going in a much different political direction than the Democratic-controlled federal government. Is this pushback by states against federal initiatives healthy for the country?

Pignanelli: For decades, movies and television painted representatives of the federal government (i.e. the U.S. Marshals, FBI, EPA, CDC, etc.) as saviors remedying the incompetence and corruption of locals. But such tales are fantasies. Our national government has become so bloated and impervious to change that even well-intentioned efforts fail. State officials developing creative solutions to problems, and challenging federal initiatives, is imperative.

Webb: It’s perfectly natural, and proper, for the states to serve as a check on the national government. Such action was foreseen and intended by the nation’s founders. The founders gave states specific constitutional language and tools to fight federal encroachment. We are a very diverse country and laws that may be fine in one state don’t work well in another. Such laws ought to be left to the states to impose — or not.

Democratic-controlled states certainly pushed back against many Trump administration initiatives, especially on immigration and environmental matters. That was their prerogative.

I’m happy to see states use lawful means to challenge federal laws and mandates they don’t agree with. We need more of it, not less. In fact, states need more tools to compete with the federal government, such as the ability for a supermajority of states to repeal a federal law or regulation.

More of society’s problems would be solved, governance would improve, and the nation’s unfathomable debt would decline with a massive devolution of programs and power from the federal level to states and local governments.

Former President Donald Trump is pushing legislatures all across the country to require audits of the 2020 election results — even in states where he won. Is there any interest among Utah legislators to seek an audit — and is there any need?

Pignanelli: Utah is the diamond encrusted platinum standard of balloting activities. Our lieutenant governor and county clerks are efficient and dedicated to fair and efficient elections. An audit is unnecessary, especially as other government functions deserve such.

Webb: This effort by Trump and his supporters is political insanity. Trump’s nonsensical crusade to overturn the 2020 election is hurting himself and his party. Even in deep-red Idaho, where Trump won big, the election deniers have demanded an investigation. No clear-thinking person on the planet thinks this makes sense.

The 2020 election is long over and the country moved on months ago. Trump and a few fanatics are showcasing the depths to which human stupidity can descend.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.