Mandatory COVID-19 vaccine bill surfaces at New York statehouse

Rosenthal

ALBANY — New legislation at the statehouse would require all New Yorkers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 unless they are excused by a physician.

The controversial measure, authored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, states the state Department of Health “shall mandate vaccination for all individuals or groups of individuals who, as shown by clinical data, are proven to be safe to receive such vaccine,” if a determination has been made an insufficient number people have developed immunity to COVID-19.

The bill was quickly decried by Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, who said the state government should be educating New Yorkers about the benefits of vaccination, not mandating immunization shots.

“I feel this would be forcing government mandates on people without letting them make their own choices,” Morinello said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will encourage all New Yorkers to be vaccinated, though he has not embraced the idea of mandatory shots. National polling has found about 50% of the adult population is skeptical about the coronavirus vaccine, which has triggered concern among immunology experts who cite research showing about 70% of the population would need to get the shots to curb the spread of the potentially virus.

Lawmakers are poised to begin the 2021 legislative session Jan. 6, with committee meetings, debates and voting on bills to be handled remotely.

In other pandemic legislation, a measure that would grant amnesty to restaurants, bars and hotels for state-imposed COVID-19 fines was advanced by Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Michael Cusick, both Staten Island Democrats.

“These businesses are not just places we enjoy a night out at, they employ hundreds of thousands of people and the products they purchase have an economic impact across the state,” Savino said.

In the North Country, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said he agrees with the intent of the bill and plans to support it, contending the state’s fines have been a crushing blow to small businesses dealing with complicated rules.

“These small businesses have been hit harder than anybody and we need to find ways to support them,” Jones said. “Many of them are worried about the state Liquor Authority coming after them with massive fines or pulling their license if they do one thing wrong.”

Jones, who has several state prisons in his district, said he is also calling for a pause on visits to inmates at those facilities, suggesting it would help lower the risk of the virus spreading into local communities.

The New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), cited the seizure of various contraband including metal-cutting blades, cell phones and drugs, in calling for a “complete” lockdown of maximum security Greene Correctional Facility in Greene County. The prison has had scores of inmates test positive for COVID-19.

The public health crisis has fueled an economic crisis, with the Cuomo administration, county leaders and business organizations pressing federal representatives in Washington to finalize a second round of stimulus relief.

The Business Council of New York, representing some 2,200 employers, urged U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., to ensure the package includes liability protections for employers making “good faith efforts” to protect employees and customers while complying with all state and federal pandemic rules.

Ken Polansky, the council’s vice president, said such protections would allow companies to avoid having to defend themselves from litigation that lacked merit but could nonetheless be costly to the firms.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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