LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky state Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, pre-filed legislation Wednesday that would ban employers from requiring their workers to receive vaccinations.
The proposed legislation, which will not be up for consideration until the 2022 legislative session begins in Jan., comes as COVID-19 is surging in Kentucky and public health experts predict crowded ICUs and full hospitals.
It also comes as vaccine mandates increase in popularity across the commonwealth. As of Aug. 5, at least 11 hospital systems in the state announced plans to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We strongly believe that this vaccine is our hope and our tool to protect our patients, our staff and our families,” Appalachian Regional Healthcare CEO Hollie Harris Phillips said earlier this month.
Under Bechler’s proposed legislation, employers would be prohibited from altering any conditions of a worker's employment “because the person declines immunization or refuses to disclose his or her immunization status.” It would also prohibit employers from requiring workers to “submit to immunization or disclose his or her immunization status” as a condition of employment.
The bill is the second piece of COVID-related legislation Bechler has pre-filed this week. On Monday, he put forward a bill that would bar schools and school boards from requiring masks on campus.
Under current law, an employer could legally require an employee to get vaccinated against COVID-19, an employment attorney told Spectrum News 1 earlier this summer.
Employer mandates of the COVID-19 vaccine have the support of organizations such as the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association, and the Kentucky Nurses Association. Gov. Andy Beshear also recently urged private businesses to adopt vaccine mandates.
“Other companies should follow the lead that we’re seeing here today, of doing everything they can, including [vaccine] requirements to get people vaccinated,” he said this month after the hospital systems announced their requirements.
The issue of lagging vaccine uptake has become more relevant given the delta variant. In Kentucky, only 66% of adults are vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 40% of 18- to 29-year-olds are vaccinated and 51% of 30- to 39-year-olds have received one of the three shots that protect people against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is seeing rapid growth in COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Tuesday, 1,603 people were hospitalized with the illness, an increase of 352 over the week prior. Of those, 441 were in the ICU and 238 on ventilators.
“I’m going to tell you right now, the health care capacity is going to get really difficult here in the weeks ahead,” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Tuesday.