A man wears a ‘I Do Not Comply’ pin at a protest against masks, COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccine passports outside the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control on March 13, 2021. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images
Gov. Katie Hobbs on Thursday vetoed Republican-backed bills that would have fined businesses that didn’t grant their employees religious exemptions from vaccines and made it illegal for the unhoused to camp in public spaces.
The vaccine exemption would have required all companies in Arizona to allow employees — including those who work in health care — to skip mandated vaccinations for the flu and COVID-19, as well as any other vaccine authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency conditions.
State law already allows employees to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine based on religious beliefs, but Senate Bill 1250 would have given employees who were not afforded a chance to claim a religious exemption — or those whose request was denied and who were later fired — to go to the Attorney General’s Office, which could launch an investigation and fine a company up to $5,000.
Currently, employers are directed to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with religious exemption requests, which can include wearing a mask, working remotely or being moved from an area where there is a risk of contact with vulnerable populations.
The legislation also expanded religious exemptions to include moral or ethical objections.
SB1250 was approved in both the state House of Representatives and Senate with only Republican support.
In her veto letter, Hobbs wrote that the bill is “unnecessary” given existing federal law protecting employees’ religious beliefs. She added that the potential fines “could be devastating for Arizona’s many small businesses.”
Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, sharply criticized Hobbs for vetoing her bill when the Senate convened Thursday afternoon. She said the federal government isn’t protecting employees’ rights, and so states need to do so more aggressively.
“And that’s exactly what this bill was designed to do, and that is exactly why I am here — that is why I am an elected (senator), because I could no longer work because of what happened and there are many out there facing the same thing,” she said.
Shamp is a former nurse who said she lost her job because she refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The other bill Hobbs vetoed Thursday was Senate Bill 1024, which sought to outlaw any camping structures on public rights-of-way, streets, highways, alleys and sidewalks. It would have made it illegal for unhoused people to erect “a tent, tarp, box or similar object” for habitation in those public spaces.
The bill originally was much broader, and would have barred people from lying, sleeping or sitting in a public street, highway, sidewalk or other right-of-way, but it was amended in the Senate to apply only to makeshift structures.
In her veto letter, Hobbs said the proposal did nothing to address the housing crisis in Arizona, particularly in the Phoenix area, which has seen a spike in homelessness amid skyrocketing housing costs since the pandemic.
“We need to address Arizona’s housing and homelessness crisis in a comprehensive manner. Rather than solving these issues in a meaningful way, this bill only makes them less visible,” Hobbs wrote. “Now, more than ever, it’s important that we are clear-eyed about the challenges we face and the urgency required to overcome them.”
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments from Sen. Janae Shamp.
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