Utah lawmakers continue to move forward with legislation to shore up their stance in opposition to vaccine mandates and allow “natural immunity” from a previous COVID-19 infection to count as vaccination in cases where mandates are in place.

The House Business and Labor Committee approved HB63 on Tuesday, which would require that employers exempt an employee from a vaccine requirement if they submit a note from a primary care provider that they were previously infected by COVID-19. It also prohibits employers from maintaining records of employees’ COVID-19 test results.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jefferson Burton, R-Salem, said the bill is very similar to SB2004 — which passed during a special session last year — but his purpose is to “properly place this statute under employment code,” rather than health code in state law.

“It was felt that this was needed based on changing conditions when Senate Bill 2004 was written. The landscape was quite different than it is now,” Burton said, referring in part to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has caused a high number of breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was asked if he sees the bill as part of a trend of lawmakers trying to legislate how businesses respond to the pandemic.

“The trend that I’ve seen is a little different than that,” he said, adding that he sees the legislation as pushing back against mandates.

Adams emphasized Utah’s declining numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“As we see, hopefully, obviously, we’re praying for snow and we’re praying this virus will go away,” Adams said. “As we see hopefully the virus diminish, the need for this type of legislation may diminish also.”

Senate Majority Assistant Whip Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, said he believes the bill sponsors are trying to find a “balancing act” between protecting individuals’ rights and businesses’ rights.

When asked whether the government should be able to tell businesses what they can and cannot do, Adams said that will be an “interesting debate” in the Legislature as the bill moves forward.

Related
Should people who’ve had COVID-19 get credit for ‘natural immunity’ if they don’t want the vaccine?
A new poll reveals what concerns Utahns most about COVID-19

Earlier in the hearing, the committee advanced a bill by Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, that would prohibit vaccine mandates by private businesses or government entities. Burton acknowledged that some provisions of his bill would be unnecessary given the prohibitions in Brooks’ bill, but said he still thinks it’s important to establish natural immunity as valid.

Burton said the Utah Department of Health wouldn’t say that being infected granted equal or superior immunity when compared to vaccination, but said “the argument has been that based on what we’ve seen in the last few months, vaccination didn’t keep you from getting (the) omicron variant, nor did having the disease prior keep you from getting the omicron variant.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination as the safest and most effective way to prevent serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. A January report showed prior infection during the delta wave of the virus did provide some level of protection.

HB63 was recommended by a 9-1 vote and will be sent to the House for consideration.

Contributing: Ashley Imlay