February 11, 2022 6:31pm
Updated: February 11, 2022 7:34pm
California workers would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under new legislation introduced Friday by Democratic lawmakers.
Assembly Bill 1993, introduced by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, would require employees and independent contractors to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 unless the employee obtains an exemption for a medical reason, disability or “sincerely held religious belief.” Those who received an exemption would be required to be regularly tested.
Employers would be required to confirm to the state that all employers and contractors are fully vaccinated by Jan. 1, 2023, or face a penalty of an “unspecified amount.”
The bill comes as the latest effort by legislators to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and increase vaccination rates among eligible populations. During a news conference Friday, Wicks said that while combatting the pandemic has posed a challenge over the last two years, one thing has become clear – “vaccines keep us safe.”
“Fundamentally, this bill is about workplace safety,” Wicks said. “Workers deserve to be safe. It’s the most important thing that they feel protected and valued in their workplace. They deserve to know that their employer is taking all possible measures to protect them.”
The vaccine mandate for workplaces would remain in place until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices “determines that COVID-19 vaccinations are no longer necessary for the health and safety of individuals,” according to the bill’s text.
Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, co-authored the legislation alongside Wicks and said the bill would help protect vulnerable populations against disease, particularly those who are immunocompromised and “depend on the rest of us” to get vaccinated. He also noted that previous mandates have helped increase vaccination rates in workplaces, pointing to United Airlines’ vaccine requirement for employees as an example.
“Vaccine requirements work, and we’ve seen this over and over again because employers have done this on their own,” Pan said Friday. “United Airlines talked about the fact that before they implemented the mandate, they had an employee die every week, and then when they got the mandate in place, that stopped. Very, very few people actually chose not to get vaccinated in the end, and we’ve seen this over and over again.”
The bill could face pushback from legislators and business owners, particularly after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden Administration’s vaccine and testing requirement for businesses with over 100 employees. But Wicks said Friday that she expects pushback and welcomes further conversation among businesses and members of the public.
“Really, from my perspective, the dialogue is critical. The public conversation is critical,” Wicks said. “This bill is grounded in science and facts and data, and that is what we’re armed with as we have this conversation.”
Thus far, the bill has won support from the Small Business Majority, who found in a recent poll that 47% of small businesses in the state already require employees to be vaccinated, and another 24% are considering instating a requirement. On Friday, the organization’s President and CEO John Arensmeyer said the bill would provide clarity for California businesses and “help them get back to normal.”
“Small businesses don’t want to be traffic cops in debates about public safety,” Arensmeyer said during a news conference Friday. “They’re looking for a common statewide standard that disentangles them from politics and enables them to operate their businesses safely and predictably.”
AB 1993 is the fourth bill to come out of a recently-formed Vaccine Work Group, which is focused on creating policy to combat the spread of COVID-19. Other bills recently introduced include a proposal from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to allow children 12 and older to get the vaccine without parental consent and a bill by Pan that would require COVID-19 vaccination for all California schoolchildren.