Bill that would make asking about vaccine status a crime being retooled after objections raised at hearing
BATON ROUGE - A bill that would make asking someone's vaccination status for entry into any building a crime hit a snag during a committee hearing Thursday, but it remains alive, the bill's author said.
Rep. Larry Bagley, a Republican representing Caddo, DeSoto, and Sabine Parishes, voluntarily deferred HB 54 to tweak its language after a hearing before the House Administration on Criminal Justice Committee.
"I just think it's wrong for a government agency, or a private person, or anybody else to require me to put something into my body that I don't know what it is or don't have enough information about that," Bagley, who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, said. "I never thought we'd get to that point."
The bill, which would create "the crime of discrimination based on vaccination status," reads, "no employee, officer, agent, or other representative of a public, nonprofit, or private entity shall inquire about the COVID-19 vaccination status of anyone seeking admission on the entity's premises."
Some legislators quickly pushed back on the bill.
"If I was an owner of a little dress shop, and I wanted to put up a sign that said you can't come in our business unless you've been vaccinated, it would be criminal at this point, correct?" Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, asked Bagley.
"Yes," he answered.
"We're now telling businesses what to do," Marcelle responded.
Rep. Joe Marino, an Independent who represents Jefferson Parish, appeared to raise concerns over the breadth of the legislation.
"From a pure business perspective, making it a crime for an owner of a business to even ask a question of someone who is about to enter their premises, that's the part I have a problem with," Marino said.
The bill originally called for violators to face a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Committee members quickly stripped jail time from the bill.
"It's just a fine, basically to put some teeth in the law to keep people from just saying, 'OK, I broke the law; so do something,'" Bagley told WBRZ in an interview Thursday afternoon. "That would give us something."
Many of the concerns, from opponents and proponents alike, focused on potentially policing private businesses.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is opposing HB 54.
"We always support employers' rights, in particular small businesses, in being able to do what they want to manage their work force," LABI's Lauren Gleason said.
Bagley, who has received two COVID-19 shots and raised unproven claims at Thursday's hearing, expects to tailor the buildings portion of the legislation, after some raised questions about potentially restricting homeowners making decisions about who can enter their houses.
He also expects to exempt hospitals because they could lose federal funds if they were required to follow such a law.
"Most of this is aimed more at entities, public entities, for instance, a mayor of a city that says you can't go eat at our restaurants unless you're vaccinated, basically mandating the vaccine," Bagley explained.
Feelings about the coronavirus vaccine aside, the broad concept of Bagley's bill drew support from some committee members, who at the same time expressed concern about the method he's taking.
"A criminal statute is not the means that we need to do in order to make this work," Rep. Richard Nelson, a St. Tammany Parish Republican, said. "Most of these businesses, most of these private entities, I think you'll agree, they should be free to do whatever they want. At the end of the day, what's happening not just in Louisiana, but in the country, the government is forcing them to do this. And so we need to get rid of the government enforcing them to ask these questions in the first place."
Bagley expects to bring a revised bill back to the committee but didn't know exactly when it would be re-heard.