As cases climb, GOP lawmakers try to ban vaccine mandates
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota House lawmakers have tried to pressure Gov. Kristi Noem to call a special session to pass a ban on employers requiring COVID-19 vaccinations even as virus cases climbed on Monday.
Several Republicans in the House of Representatives have circulated drafts of bills that would stop employers from mandating vaccinations against the virus, stepping up pressure on Noem to call a special session for them to approve the bills. But she has resisted those calls, saying there is not widespread support for a special session. The issue has Noem, who has carved out a nationwide following for her hands-off approach to the virus, being pushed from the right to intervene on the state’s largest employer, Sanford Health.
House Speaker Spencer Gosch said late Friday he wanted the governor to call a special session as he released a draft of a bill that would make COVID-19 vaccination status “strictly confidential medical information” that would be off-limits to employers. The state’s largest employer, Sanford Health, plans to require all employees to get a shot by Nov. 1.
“Gov. Noem has been a leader in fighting tyranny this past year, and we believe that she can understand the urgency here,” Gosch said in a statement.
However, Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury cast Noem’s resistance to the idea as keeping with her conservative approach to the pandemic and argued that government should not be dictating whether or not employers require vaccinations for their employees.
“Throughout this pandemic Gov. Noem has remained focused on government’s proper role, as well as her own authority,” he said in a statement.
However, whether or not the governor calls a special session may have little bearing on the deadlines employers throughout the state have set for employees to be vaccinated. In order to cause any passed bill to take immediate effect before the deadlines, it must gain a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. With some in Senate leadership already opposed to the mandate bans, that is unlikely.
Nearly 56% of people eligible for a vaccine in the state have received one, according to the Department of Health.
Meanwhile, cases of the virus have resurged to their highest levels since February. The Department of Health reported 331 new cases Monday. New cases in the state have more-than-tripled in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide climbed to 127, leaving about 42% of hospital beds open. Sanford Health is preparing for a fresh wave of the virus over the next four to six weeks, the Argus Leader reported.