SALEM, Ore. — Hoping to enshrine the backlash against Oregon's vaccine status check guidelines into law, Senate Republicans on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban "vaccine passports" in the state.
Republicans at both the state and local level have pushed back against the guidelines, which were introduced in mid-May following CDC recommendations that requirements be loosened for fully vaccinated people. Under Oregon's current framework, businesses and venues that want to allow for the fully vaccinated to eschew mask and distancing requirements would first need to check a completed vaccine card or similar proof to confirm patrons' vaccination status.
“The Governor’s vaccine passport scheme is an extreme invasion of Oregonians’ privacy,” said Senator Kim Thatcher, who introduced the bill. “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.”
In a statement, Sen. Thatcher cited a survey conducted by the Medford Chamber of Commerce, in which 93 percent of respondents did not want to condition maskless service on asking customers about their vaccination status.
Thatcher's statement suggests that the bill would go beyond the current controversy over COVID-19 vaccines, and would ban both public and private entities from conditioning service or employment on general vaccination status or the possession of a vaccine credential.
Oregon law does not currently prohibit private businesses from requiring employees to be inoculated against infectious disease — the one major exception being the healthcare industry, where providers are required to provide no-cost vaccines to workers but prohibited from requiring them as a condition of employment.
For public entities like schools, vaccinations can be "required," but Oregon law allows for a wide range of medical, religious, philosophical, and other exemptions.
“Our local businesses have gone through a lot this year,” said Thatcher. “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.”
In response to criticism of the vaccination station check policy, state officials have said that businesses are free to avoid them and continue with the state's existing framework for mask and distancing requirements — describing the policy as a stop-gap measure until 70 percent of Oregon adults have received the vaccine.
Senate Bill 872 has yet to receive its first reading. Thatcher's office said that it will be referred to a committee by the Senate President once read, but it is unlikely to gain traction in a majority-Democratic legislature that has largely shot down Republican bills aimed at restricting Governor Brown's COVID-19 policies.