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Will Gov. Cox support a bill banning business vaccine mandates? The answer is still no

‘I know that position can be maddening to some, and that’s fine,’ Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at PBS Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at PBS Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Cox on Thursday said if Utah lawmakers approve a bill to ban businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, it won’t make it past his desk.
Trent Nelson

Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday said if Utah lawmakers approve a bill to ban businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, it won’t make it past his desk.

“We support businesses in their decisions on whether or not to require vaccines, and I continue to do that,” the governor said during his monthly PBS Utah news conference.

“I know that position can be maddening to some, and that’s fine. But I’m a huge believer in free markets, and a mandate not to allow businesses to have mandates is a mandate in and of itself, and it’s government still telling businesses what they can and can’t do. And I’m opposed to that. I think that businesses should be able to have a mandate.”

A reporter asked if the Utah Legislature pursues a bill and it gets to his desk, will it be “dead on arrival?”

Cox gave a firm, one-word answer: “Yes.”

The governor’s comments come as conservatives in Utah and across the nation continue to grapple with President Joe Biden’s plan to require employers with 100 or more employees to either require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot, submit to weekly testing or be fired. All federal workers would also be required to get the shot.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in coming weeks plans to issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirement, which will cover an estimated 80 million private-sector workers. Businesses that don’t comply could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.

In Utah, legislative leaders have said they’re bracing for a possible special session in October in an attempt to tackle Biden’s large employer vaccination requirements, though what that possible Utah legislative solution looks like depends on the details of the plan. Lawmakers are also set to hold a special hearing on Monday, in front of the Business and Labor Interim Committee, to discuss Biden’s requirements and take public comments on the issue.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office is among of group of state attorneys general poised to take legal action when the vaccine mandate rules become official.

It’s not clear, however, whether a Utah lawmaker will indeed run a bill to ban businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

Earlier this year, Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, sponsored a bill that would have banned private businesses from requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination, calling it a “pro-choice bill.” The legislation, SB208, won approval from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, passed an initial vote from the full Senate on a 17-11 vote, but never received the final vote it needed to clear the Senate.

Earlier this month, a vocal group opposed to Biden’s employer vaccination plan flooded the Utah Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee, for which Kennedy is the Senate chairman, to urge Utah lawmakers to pass legislation protecting businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated.

When pushed by Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, on whether the group, Utah Open for Business, wanted an outright ban on business vaccine requirements, one of the group’s presenters said, “I think the businesses should have the right to make that decision.”

Cox on Thursday specifically pointed to the Utah Jazz, defending the team and Vivint Arena’s decision to require fans to either show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative test within 72 hours of event start times, which went into effect Thursday.

“That’s their right to do so, and we applaud the marketplace making those decisions,” Cox said.

Another elected Utah leader, however, disagrees.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart announced on Wednesday in a Facebook post that he will no longer attend Utah Jazz games because of the proof of vaccination or test requirements.

“Next year, if the Jazz leadership changes their policy, maybe I’ll come back,” Stewart wrote. “Or maybe I’ll just move on.”

Republican Sen. Mike Lee has also attempted to combat President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for large employers. On Wednesday, he unsuccessfully proposed legislation in Congress dubbed the “Don’t Jab Me Act” that would allow people who lose their jobs or their livelihoods because of the vaccine requirements to sue the federal government.

Cox, while giving an update on Utah’s current vaccination rates, again said Utahns need to know the COVID-19 vaccine remains the “most effective way to protect yourself, to protect your family, to protect your community” from the deadly virus.

As of Thursday, nearly 1.9 million Utahns — or at least 75% of Utah adults — have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“But we still have far too many who have not received the vaccine, and we need our partners in the business community to help,” Cox said. “We recognize all of those in the business community who are working to help get their employees vaccinated, the customers and consumers vaccinated, and we’re grateful for efforts. I support and applaud them.”