Snn. Boozman speaks at Harding University

U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas) discusses federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates at Harding University on Thursday afternoon at the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp.’s 100 For the Future meeting.

Republican Sen. John Boozman believes that vaccination mandates by the President Joe Biden administration on businesses and health-care workers are “a huge mistake” and create “a competitive disadvantage.”

Boozman, Arkansas’ senior U.S. senator, discussed the mandates at Harding University as part of the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp.’s 100 For the Future meeting Thursday. Lawsuits have been filed by Republican-led states against the mandates and a temporary stay against the Democratic president’s administration’s business vaccine rule was issued late last week by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The business rules would require federal contractors to ensure their workers are vaccinated and that businesses with more than 100 employees require their workers to get vaccinated or wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus.

Separately, a federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers in about 76,000 health-care facilities and home health-care providers that get funding from the government health programs.

All of the mandates are scheduled to take effect Jan. 4

Unity Health President and Chief Executive Officer Steven Webb asked Boozman about the mandates, saying they are impacting a lot of different businesses and “it’s going to impact labor.”

“I’m very much opposed for a number of reasons,” Boozman said. “I’ve been vaccinated and I preach vaccination. I’m an optometrist my brother was an ophthalmologist.”

He said vaccines were the fastest way to get back to normal but he has ”a lot of friends that are not uneducated hillbillies by any means, they just feel strongly that they don’t need to do that. So as a result, I think the federal mandate, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] doing this, is a huge mistake.”

“It’s a huge mistake for the federal work force,” Boozman said. “I talked to the ranking member on Veterans Affairs; we give them their budget. I was talking to the secretary the other day about this. The labor force right now is so thin in so many different areas. And the other problem, too, is so much of the labor force are baby boomers.

“The mandate [for businesses] is for people that hire 100 people, so it’s a competitive disadvantage when your competitor whose got 90 employees or 99 and you got 105; they have to deal with this and their competitor doesn’t. I wouldn’t want to be the 103rd employee. Then you need to start making decisions, do we need to go down to 99 and we play the game and don’t have to deal with this?”

Boozman said those are situations business owners shouldn’t be facing.

“I am very much a vaccine guy and a business itself, if they want to do that, they can do that,” he said, “but as far as the federal government coming out saying you got to do this when you got the tightest labor supply in history – and then again, we talked about the supply chain and it all goes together – it’s going to create real problems.”

Boozman said what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is going to do as well as a lot of the federal agencies is encourage employees to get religious exemptions.

“If you just say for religious reasons I’m against this, they are going to check that box and say that’s fine,” he said, adding that it’s not up to human resources to delve into someone’s thought process when it comes to religious affiliation.

Boozman said he thinks the courts are going to deal with the OSHA mandate. The lawsuits ask courts to decide whether the administration’s effort to curtail the pandemic represents a federal power grab and usurps the authority of states to set health policy.

“It’s crazy,” Boozman said. “This is not a law. This is something OSHA is doing and they are doing it through the agency. When an agency does a regulation like they are doing, then we have the ability as Congress to say, ‘No, we don’t approve of this.’

“We have introduced this motion – it has to be acted on in 60 days upon introducing it and then we have a vote and then the Senate ... and all it takes is 51 votes, so you can’t filibuster or anything like that.”

Harding University President Dr. David Burks called the mandates “a really serious problem, I think, for everyone in America.”

“I just finished trying to review the 480 pages that OSHA has put out and webinars and what have you,” Burks said. “The impact on a small college like Harding, to try to do what the OSHA regulations require; the effects on student workers, they’re subject to it.

“We can’t just say, ‘Have you been tested?’ So they are opting out to be tested. We are responsible for knowing it’s a valid test. We’re responsible as a supervisor for making sure they wear a mask. If they don’t wear a mask, if they’re not vaccinated, we are fined. It’s an almost impossible situation for people to follow. I think we need congressional action if there’s any way.”

Boozman said not only is the problem the practicality of the mandates and “stiff fines” of nearly $14,000, but “you’re talking about if you’re a person who lied to OSHA about this, they can put you in jail for six months. It’s crazy.”

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press.

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