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Senate bill bars blocking access to government services based on COVID vax status

The state Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would prohibit government agencies from requiring proof of COVID- 19 vaccination to access government facilities or services. The bill continues a long debate about what role COVID vaccinations should play in public life in Georgia after they first began to be administered in December 2020.

Last year, the General Assembly enacted a measure barring the use of a person’s COVID vaccine status to prevent access to government facilities, services or licenses. The law included an automatic repeal date of June 30, 2023.

The new Senate bill would remove the repeal date, making the provision a permanent part of Georgia law. The bill passed the Republican- controlled chamber by a 31-21 party line vote. “The fundamental question that this bill addresses … is whether or not the government should deny services to its citizens based on their COVID-19 vaccination status,” said Sen. Greg Dolezal, RCumming, the bill’s main sponsor.

“Ultimately, by voting ‘no’ for this [bill], you're not voting for public health. You're voting to allow government to deny a license to someone because they don't have the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Senate Democrats opposed the measure, arguing the bill politicizes what should be a public health matter.

Sen. Nan Orrock, DAtlanta, said vaccines have driven the decline in the severity of the COVID-19 virus.

“Newsflash: That [decline is] because we developed a vaccine,” Orrock said. “This nation should take public health measures to protect the population from a dread disease.”

“A permanent ban sets a dangerous precedent, which may lead to erosion of vaccine requirements for school attendance,” added Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain.

The Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians oppose the bill, Butler said.

Georgia has had more than 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 42,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. About 58% of the state is fully vaccinated.

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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