Oregon Republicans introduce a ban on COVID 'vaccine passports'

Oregon has left it up to businesses whether to inquire about vaccination status.
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OregonCapitol
The Oregon state Capitol in Salem.
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Oregon has left it up to businesses whether they want to know if you are vaccinated or not, but GOP lawmakers want the state to ban the practice altogether.

Under a bill from state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, the state would ban public and private entities from using vaccination status as a condition of employment. It would also keep governments from suppressing Oregonians from "exercising first amendment rights because of COVID-19 risks."

In a news release, Thatcher also cited a May survey from the Medford Chamber of Commerce, which found 93% of businesses had no intention of basing mask-free service on vaccination status. The practice of requiring "vaccine passports" as they have been nicknamed in popular culture is something Thatcher says violates Oregonians' basic rights.

"No Oregonian should have to divulge medical information to participate in everyday life," Thatcher said. "This bill is about making clear Oregonians' rights, which have been railroaded by the Governor during the pandemic."

The bill's introduction on Friday follows Gov. Kate Brown's stated hopes that the state is on track to see 70% vaccination rates by the end of June. The state is set to reopen upon reaching that benchmark, but falling vaccination rates in the state suggest there's little wiggle room for reaching that summer date.

State law requires vaccinations for students from kindergarten through the 12th grade for diseases like polio and measles. Other vaccinations require a medical, religious or philosophical exemption.

COVID vaccination is not a condition of employment for K-12 teachers in Oregon. According to the governor's office, wildland firefighters can expect to follow the same social distancing and face mask rules at camp regardless of vaccination status.

Since Brown left the decision to require face masks for fully vaccinated people over to businesses last month, enforcement has varied wildly across the state. In Portland, Ross Dress For Less stores have uniformed security guards and require face masks of all customers regardless of vaccination status. In Salem, a range of grocery stores, including Safeway, mandate face masks. According to local managers, they have made it store policy not to confront violators out of concern for worker safety.

Jason Brandt, President and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, says there are many mixed feelings in the hospitality industry about policing vaccination status.

"We anticipate many members will continue requiring their guests to wear face coverings for a portion of their dining and lodging experiences," Brandt said. "Many businesses are expressing reluctance in asking guests about their private medical information."

According to the Oregon Health Authority, more than 66% of Oregonians have received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine as of last Friday. The state's million-dollar vaccine lottery ends on June 28.

Thatcher's bill remains on the Senate President's desk and has yet to be referred to a committee.