Proposed bill would require businesses to allow exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine

On Thursday, dozens of Nebraskans showed up to the Capitol to voice their opinions about a bill that would require businesses to allow exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – On Thursday, dozens of Nebraskans showed up to the Capitol to voice their opinions about a bill that would require businesses to allow exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sen. Ben Hansen’s LB906 would call for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a vaccine exemption form for people with medical and religious exemptions to the vaccine.

Many people, including college students, professors, business owners, and nurses, spoke in support of the bill.

Jennifer Krahulik says she drove seven hours from Scottsbluff County to testify.

“You are finally bringing a bill to protect Nebraska citizens against the mandates that the federal government is trying to put on us,” she said to members of the Health and Human Services committee. “I knew I could not stay home.”

Patrice Quadrel was dismissed from Creighton University for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine. She applied for a religious exemption, but it was declined. She and another classmate appeared at the hearing to advocate for the bill to include college students in addition to employees.

“I emailed every school in the country about my situation,” Quadrel said. “I’ve received over 35 denials to transfer. I suffered immense emotional turmoil when my religious exemption was denied.”

Carleen Barger, a nurse with CHI Health, says she was granted a religious exemption, but shares that the experience of requesting one was uncomfortable for her.

“Working for a Catholic organization, I thought that it would be it wouldn’t be any problem,” Barger said. “But my religious beliefs were being scrutinized. And that’s a very demoralizing position to be in.”

Geoff Friesen is a finance professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He says he’s read the clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine multiple times, and says those trials demonstrate that the vaccines have clear benefits and clear risks.

“Where there is risk, there must remain choice,” Friesen told the committee.

A vast majority of people who appeared in person at the hearing were in favor of LB906. A few spoke neutrally.

Only two people appeared in person to testify against Hansen’s bill.

Both Dr. David Watts and Dexter Schrodt are with the Nebraska Medical Association.

They say they are concerned about the precedent such a bill would set for future health emergencies.

“Although Senator Hansen has narrowed the bill to the COVID-19 vaccine, the precedent will be set for any future public health issues that might emerge,” Watts said. “We hope that it would not become ongoing policy of the state of nebraska, to interject matters into private employment, that pertained to a public health issue.”

“The employer may have very well good reason for implementing a vaccine mandate,” Schrodt said. “Under this bill, those would be undercut.”

After more than three hours of testimony, Hansen took the stand to address concerns expressed about his bill.

“We didn’t set the precedent, the federal government did,” Hansen said. “We’re responding to it and we’re trying to protect our employees.”

Hansen tells Channel 8 that the exemption forms would only apply for medical and religious reasons, but people seeking religious exemption would not be required to elaborate on their beliefs beyond what’s asked on the form. Employers would have to accept them.

“We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of those who have lost somebody close, or their jobs to this virus, but we can have empathy and understanding for both,” Hansen said.

Even if the bill were passed, an employer may require an employee granted an exemption to be periodically tested for COVID-19 at the employer’s expense and use personal protective equipment provided by the employer.

If the bill gets out of committee, Hansen tells Channel 8 he expects it to be brought to the floor fairly quickly.

Categories: Capitol News, Coronavirus, Lancaster, Nebraska News, News