More Republicans in the Oregon Legislature are piling on the criticism of Governor Kate Brown over her unique-in-the-nation approach to masks and business operations amid the continuing vaccine rollout.
Senator Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the use of a so-called “vaccine passport” in Oregon.
Thatcher’s proposal, Senate Bill 872, would prohibit public and private entities from conditioning service or employment opportunities based on vaccination status or the possession of a vaccine credential.
“The governor’s vaccine passport scheme is an extreme invasion of Oregonians’ privacy,” said Senator Thatcher. “No Oregonian should have to divulge medical information to participate in everyday life.
“This bill is about making clear Oregonians’ rights, which have been railroaded by the governor during the pandemic. One person cannot and should not have this much power over Oregonians’ lives and livelihoods.”
The term “vaccine passport” has become increasingly associated with the state’s prescribed policy of continuing to require universal mask-wearing except in businesses and venues where patrons’ vaccination status is verified.
As currently written, businesses are not allowed to refuse service or entry on the basis of vaccination status; the policy applies only to the use of masks in indoor settings.
In theory, the policy lines up with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — that those who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to mask up — while those who are not should continue to do so.
But in practice, Oregon’s policy runs counter to the recommendations of both the CDC and the White House.
No other state has followed Oregon down the road of vaccine verification. Most have done away with mask mandates altogether (if they ever had one to begin with), while others — including California and Washington — have adopted an honor system, where businesses are expected to trust that customers who go unmasked have been vaccinated.
The plan has also drawn broad criticism from both lawmakers and special interest groups for putting businesses and workers in the awkward position of requesting private health information from their customers.
According to news reports, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 555, which represents grocery store workers, said, “Telling essential employees to be the mask police and asking customers for their medical information puts them in harm’s way.”
A survey conducted by the Medford Chamber of Commerce found that 93% of businesses do not want to condition maskless service on asking customers for medical information, Thatcher said.
Even The Oregonian argued in an editorial Sunday that it’s time for Brown to get in line with the leaders of other progressive states.
“Our local businesses have gone through a lot this year,” she said. “The last thing we should be doing is making them play mask and vaccine cop. They have much more important things to do, like getting back to normal so Oregonians can earn a living.”
The bill is unlikely to progress in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. It is currently awaiting a first reading, after which it would be referred to a committee by Senate President Peter Courtney.
A vaccine passport ban was presented in Clackamas County this week by Commissioner Mark Shull, modeled from a similar proposal that passed in Yamhill County.
Though at least a couple of other commissioners, including Chair Tootie Smith, said they would have been in favor of a vaccine passport ban, the discussion was derailed by Shull’s repeated references to Jim Crow laws — which enforced the legal segregation of Black people in the pre-civil rights movement South.
Smith declared any future consideration of a passport ban in Clackamas County to be dead on arrival.
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