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Justice Needs to Show Leadership

One day, Gov. Jim Justice tells West Virginians that private businesses should be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees.

The next, he’s introducing legislation that calls for government involvement with businesses that choose to mandate vaccines by requiring them to grant religious and medical exemptions to workers — and not providing clear guidance on just what those exemptions should be, or how they should be granted.

The bill introduced by Justice would preclude any employee from losing his or her job if they have a waiver exempting them from the vaccine. There is no language in the bill that describes exactly what the standards for such a waiver should be.

“I firmly stand behind the rights of our private businesses,” Justice said during his Wednesday COVID-19 briefing. “What I am trying to say here is our businesses need to conform to the (federal) law. … I am against the federal government telling our businesses what to do, but we need to follow the law of the land.”

Nonsense. It’s messaging such as this that is causing residents to choose not to get vaccinated, governor. And, given the vague language of your legislation, it opens the door for courts to interpret the legislation in different ways.

The bill, which is moving through the Legislature during this special session, is causing alarm among business groups and health care providers who fear it could be expanded to further regulate how businesses mandate the vaccine.

“WVU Medicine opposes the COVID-19 exemptions bill in its current form,” a release from the health care entity stated. “We would urge the Legislature to push the pause button and work with key stakeholders and employers across West Virginia to ensure this bill does not unintentionally derail their efforts to protect their employees and the broader public.”

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce also has polled its members, and found that 67 percent of respondents said employers should be free to make decisions regarding whether employees should be vaccinated. Only 18 percent said the Legislature should make those decisions.

The message is clear, governor: stay out of the way of private businesses and the decisions they make for their future. That’s a basic tenet of conservatism that perhaps it would do well for you to remember.

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