State Senate Votes to Ban COVID-19 Vaccine from School Vaccination Lists
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- State senators voted Tuesday to forever bar the state Department of Health Services from requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to be able to attend school.
The 16-14 party-line vote, with all Republicans in favor, came despite the fact that there is currently no such mandate. Nor were they swayed by arguments that actually adding a COVID requirement to the list of what students are supposed to be inoculated against is a complex process with public input.
HB 2086 actually was one of three COVID-related measures approved Tuesday by the Senate.
Lawmakers also voted to make it a illegal for any level of government that gets public funds from requiring visitors to wear a make or any face covering.
HB 2453 is clearly aimed at what happened after the outbreak of COVID. That's because the measure, which already has been approved in similar form by the House, it contains an exception for "long-standing workplace safety and infection control measures that are unrelated to COVID-19.''
Senators also took aim at the vaccines for the virus, at least as it relates to children.
HB 2371 would make it a crime for government agencies to require anyone younger than 18 to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or any variant without the consent of a parent or guardian. And it even would allow county attorneys to prosecute anyone who violated the law.
But the debate on the Senate floor was about HB 2086.
Aside from restricting the ability of the state health department to impose a COVID vaccine mandate for school attendance, it also would prohibit schools from requiring students to be immunized against COVID to attend in-person classes.
The measure was crafted by Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear.
"This is not a childhood disease,'' she said in pushing the plan through the House Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs, in February. By contrast, the current requirements for vaccination cover disease ranging from mumps and rubella to chickenpox and measles.
Osborne, however, made it clear that her HB 2086 has a message beyond the vaccine itself.
"We just have got to stop fear from being continuously in our children's minds,'' she said.
But Sen. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, voting against the measure on Tuesday, said there is no need for such an absolute prohibition.
She cited testimony from Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who pointed out that the state health director -- a position he previously had held -- cannot simply add a vaccine to the list of what is required for school attendance.
"They have to go through an 18-month-long process that involves a large amount of public testimony and economic impact evaluation,'' Teran said. And she told colleagues that they should not be making a political decision on the issue.
"The purpose behind a vaccine requirement is to keep kids in school, keep them healthy and stop outbreaks,'' Teran said. She said that more children vaccinated increases the chances of "herd immunity,'' where enough people are inoculated to help prevent the spread among those who have medical reasons why they cannot get vaccinated.
And Teran said Arizona already has among the "most permissive'' laws allowing parents to opt out of these vaccines. That includes not just exemptions for medical and religious reasons but even permits a parent to simply sign a form saying he or she has a personal objection.
The measure now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey who already already has signed various COVID-related restrictions that have reached his desk.
That includes one that bars local governments from imposing mask mandates on residents, a second that says private businesses don't have to enforce state or local mask mandates for their patrons, and a third that bans schools from requiring students to wear masks in class.
But the issue of school immunizations could meet a different fate.
In 2019 the governor threatened to veto legislation that he believed will undermine efforts to vaccinate most children in the state.
"Vaccinations are good for our kids and helpful for public health,'' Ducey said when asked about three bills being pushed by then-Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix. "I'm not going to sign any law that doesn't promote or extend vaccinations in the state of Arizona.''
That gubernatorial warning was enough to kill the proposals before they ever got to the governor's desk.
The bills by Barto, who is now a state senator, differed in ways from HB 2086.
That's because she had sought to make it even easier for parents to opt out of existing requirements for vaccines to attend school. By contrast, the bill now headed to Ducey deals with an immunization requirement that does not yet exist.
But the governor, in a separate conversation in 2018 with Capitol Media Services, also made it clear that he does not subscribe to theories advanced by some that vaccines have side effects, including a claimed link to autism.
"I've heard those rumors and those rumors concern me,'' he said. "But I think that the medical evidence and the subject matter experts would say that those rumors are unfounded.''
Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karmargin would not discuss the possible fate of HB 2086.
"We don't comment on legislation until we see it,'' he said.
That, however, is not always true.
When asked about those Barto bills in 2019, the governor said he normally does not comment on measures moving through the legislature.
"But because this involves public health, I think it's important for people to know we are pro-vaccination in the state of Arizona,'' Ducey said at the time. "We want to see more of our kids being vaccinated rather than fewer.''
The other two measures approved Tuesday by the Senate now return to the House to consider changes made in the Senate versions.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia