Freedom Caucus battles discrimination as vaccination status becomes civil rights issue

• Bill would prohibit discrimination based on COVID vaccination status
• Proposals for ‘COVID passports,’ employer actions show urgency of issue
• Leaves decision a matter of personal choice

Discrimination based on vaccination status is a civil rights issue, and should be prohibited by law, say members of the Senate Freedom Caucus.

Freedom Caucus members are calling on the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 5144, which would prohibit government agencies, schools, employers and businesses that serve the public from discriminating against people who choose not to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

“When I introduced this bill at the start of session, we knew this would become a serious issue,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “We are hearing from people who have been threatened with termination if they refuse to take the vaccine. There are proposals to issue ‘coronavirus passports’ that would allow vaccinated persons to travel freely, and restrict the movement of anyone else. This legislation isn’t pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, but rather pro-individual rights. We need to end this discrimination before it becomes widespread.”

SB 5144 was denied a hearing a hearing and vote early in this year’s session, but could be revived by numerous means. Freedom Caucus members said they have received a number of queries from persons who have been caught up in the rush to vaccinate.

One is Traci Nelson, a Bonney Lake office manager employed in a Bellevue medical office. Nelson said she has been threatened with termination if she does not receive a vaccination by the end of April. Nelson objects to vaccination because COVID vaccines were rushed to market without clinical trials.

“I feel like I’m being bullied,” she said. “This is an absolutely brand-new type of vaccine that has never been used before. No long-term studies have been done and it has not gone through a testing phase. I shouldn’t be forced to take a non-licensed vaccine.”

Under the bill:

  • Public and private employers could not require workers to be vaccinated.
  • Schools could not require vaccination as a condition of attendance.
  • Access could not be denied to places of public accommodation, including public places and businesses open to the public.
  • Vaccination could not be required for travel on planes, trains and buses.
  • Those who choose not to be vaccinated could not be denied any right available to the population as a whole.

Members of the Senate Freedom Caucus say no decision is more personal than the decision to receive an injection. Under the legislation, the choice would be left entirely to the individual.

“Sometimes we write legislation anticipating a problem that we want to prevent,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn. “That’s the case with Senate Bill 5144. One of my constituents is facing discrimination from her employer that threatens her livelihood. We want to protect the rights of Washingtonians, preserve personal privacy, and prevent adverse actions from the state or employers. Her situation is totally unacceptable and preventable if we pass this legislation.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, explained, “We are not anti-vaccine. The Freedom Caucus wants individuals to have access to the vaccine if they so choose. No one should be forced to be vaccinated just to exercise the fundamental rights available to all citizens.

“This bill is about protecting Washingtonians from discrimination and possible bullying.”