For The Record
Georgia Senate votes to permanently bar local officials from requiring proof of COVID shot to enter public buildings
Proponents of the Senate bill argue that the threat of COVID-19 has waned, bolstering their arguments that government officials should not be allowed to withhold services from someone who is unvaccinated. Scott Olson/Getty Images
The state Senate has voted to make permanent a pandemic-era law that temporarily banned local governments from requiring residents to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to receive a service or access public buildings.
The GOP proposal passed the chamber Tuesday with a 31-to-21 vote that fell along party lines and dredged up debate over how far government should go to contain a public health crisis.
The measure now heads to the House for consideration and is among the first bills to clear either chamber this session. Without it, the temporary ban, which was part of a package of controversial pandemic-inspired bills from last session, will expire this June.
“Thank goodness the instincts of the people that voted for this bill were correct and we did not allow government to discriminate against citizens over the last year,” said Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Cumming Republican who sponsored the bill.
Proponents argue that the threat of COVID-19 has waned, bolstering their arguments that government officials should not be allowed to withhold services from someone who is unvaccinated.
Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and physician, said the science and disease itself have evolved since the coronavirus first reached Georgia in early 2020. At this point, Watson likened the COVID-19 vaccine to being inoculated against a bad cold.
“What was the COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 is different than COVID-19 in the late 2022 and 2023,” Watson said.
But Democrats argued the proposed change undermines the very public health strategies that helped slow the spread during the height of the pandemic and also sends a dangerous signal to those who may be reluctant to get vaccinated.
“You’re fundamentally signing on to the anti-vaccination movement,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat. “Because, folks, when people hear that we’re minimizing this and we’re putting in a permanent ban on the public health powers, they’ll say ‘Well, I guess it’s really not that big a thing. Yeah, I’m going to skip those vaccination schedules at my kid’s school this year.’ That’s the road you’re going down.”
Some opponents also disagreed that COVID-19 is now like having a cold or flu.
“COVID feels like heck, and that is not really what I want to say, but it feels awful,” said Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat.
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