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SD House passes broad vaccine exemption bill, snubbing Noem

February 22, 2022 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House on Tuesday passed a proposal to allow employees to avoid their workplace COVID-19 vaccine requirement by citing any objection of their conscience.

The bill’s passage on a 37-30 vote in the Republican-controlled House represented a snub to a separate proposal from Gov. Kristi Noem that would allow employees to avoid mandates by citing either a medical exemption, religious grounds for refusal or a test showing antibodies against COVID-19 in the last six months.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican who has clashed with the governor, pushed the bill as a way to provide broad and simple exemptions from vaccine mandates.

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Under the proposal, getting out of an employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate would be as simple as objecting to getting a shot. It would not apply to National Guard troops and health care facilities that are under vaccine mandates from the federal government.

“You shouldn’t have to take your Bible in or your catechism in and say I don’t want to do this because these are my sincerely held beliefs,” said Republican Rep. Steve Haugaard, who is challenging Noem in the GOP primary.

Noem last week voiced criticism of the bill allowing people to avoid the vaccine requirement by voicing their objections orally.

“It will be incredibly hard for people to document and for businesses to document,” she said.

Her bill passed the Senate last week and will next be considered by House lawmakers; while the House bill is headed to the Senate.

The inter-party squabble comes as the state’s vaccination rate of almost 60% of people fully vaccinated lags behind the nationwide rate of 64%.

However, South Dakota has seen a decrease in reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. The Department of Health on Tuesday reported 211 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 infections, marking a decline from last month when the number topped 400 — the highest rate in over a year.

President Joe Biden’s administration pushed vaccine mandates through employers last year to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate and slow the spread of the coronavirus. The U.S. Supreme Court has stopped that effort, but a requirement for millions of health care workers, issued through Medicare and Medicaid providers, has remained.