RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Republican proposals to make mandates for masks and COVID-19 vaccines illegal forms of discrimination in Virginia were killed by a Senate panel along party lines.
The Virginia Senate General Laws and Technology Committee squashed two bills from state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) on Wednesday that would have banned public places, including schools and businesses, from requiring masks or asking people to disclose their vaccination status to enter.
Sen. Chase presented the measures to the 15-member panel, which is made up of eight Democrats and seven Republicans, telling her colleagues that she wanted to get rid of the “one-size-fits-all” approach to masks and vaccines. The committee is controlled by Democrats because the party has a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate.
The GOP state senator introduced Senate Bill 582 to the panel first. The legislation would have prohibited schools, colleges and universities, businesses and other public places from requiring people to wear face coverings before entering or being served.
Chase called the legislation “a freedom of choice bill and a freedom to breathe bill” and told the committee it was not meant to weigh in on how effective masks are in preventing COVID-19 infections but about individual rights.
People who spoke in support of Chase’s bill at Wednesday’s meeting shared why they oppose wearing masks, some citing medical concerns, and times they said they felt discriminated against for not wearing one. A Spotsylvania man who said his wife is hearing impaired and needs to see his lips as he speaks to understand told the panel he has been refused service for not wearing masks.
After two speakers addressed their opposition to Chase’s bill, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) made a motion to “PBI” the bill, or pass it by indefinitely, a move Chase explained to the people listening in on the meeting.
“To clarify to the members who are tuning in that a PBI means they’re gonna pass by the bill indefinitely. Ultimately killing the bill. So a vote yes is to kill the bill,” she said.
Chase’s bill almost received unanimous support from Republicans on the committee, but state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), an OB-GYN, did not vote on the motion. In the end, the Democratic-controlled panel voted 8-6 to kill the bill.
The next piece of legislation that Chase introduced, Senate Bill 548, would have made asking for a person’s vaccination status before they could enter a public place a form of illegal discrimination.
“I’m trying to be proactive to make sure that we don’t discriminate against people who make a conscientious decision not to get the vaccine. We need to respect people’s individual rights and choice,” Chase told the committee Wednesday.
Chase said that establishments don’t ask people to disclose whether they have been immunized for other diseases and shouldn’t be permitted to do so for the coronavirus vaccine. She claimed people being denied service at restaurants and other businesses because they don’t want to share their vaccination status is discriminatory and “must stop.”
Many of the same people who spoke in support of the first bill shared their thoughts on Chase’s second bill in front of the committee. There were claims that vaccines are not safe for all people, pointing to severe and rare reactions to the vaccine that people have experienced.
While she didn’t make a formal vote on the mask bill, Sen. Dunnavant said she supported Chase’s bill prohibiting businesses and other public places from requiring proof of vaccination. She said there are opportunities to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but there shouldn’t “a litmus test to get into stores.”
“You cannot have somebody have to report medical information or the lack of that information without impinging upon their privacy rights,” Dunnavant said before making a motion to report the bill out of committee. “Having a threshold where you have to show verification of a vaccination or explain to a restaurant owner why you have a medical exemption is above and beyond any expectation of HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996] or privacy.”
When it came time to vote, the committee rejected the bill with all eight Democrats voting against and all seven Republicans voting in support of the legislation.
The GOP support for Chase’s bills come nearly a year after three Republican state senators voted with Democrats to formally censure her in the chamber after comments she made in support of rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.