It was deferred yesterday but, the author insists, isn’t dead, so it’s still a worthy topic of conversation. But HB 54 by Rep. Larry Bagley, a Republican from Shreveport, is attempting something interesting. The bill is a pushback on vaccine mandates and passports like the one LaToya Cantrell has attempted in New Orleans.
Bagley is back at the drawing board trying to retool it, because as originally written it ran into a good deal of pushback in the committee hearing it.
“I just think it’s wrong for a government agency, or a private person, or anybody else to require me to put something into my body that I don’t know what it is or don’t have enough information about that,” Bagley, who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, said. “I never thought we’d get to that point.”
The bill, which would create “the crime of discrimination based on vaccination status,” reads, “no employee, officer, agent, or other representative of a public, nonprofit, or private entity shall inquire about the COVID-19 vaccination status of anyone seeking admission on the entity’s premises.”
Some legislators quickly pushed back on the bill.
“If I was an owner of a little dress shop, and I wanted to put up a sign that said you can’t come in our business unless you’ve been vaccinated, it would be criminal at this point, correct?” Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, asked Bagley.
“Yes,” he answered.
“We’re now telling businesses what to do,” Marcelle responded.
Rep. Joe Marino, an Independent who represents Jefferson Parish, appeared to raise concerns over the breadth of the legislation.
“From a pure business perspective, making it a crime for an owner of a business to even ask a question of someone who is about to enter their premises, that’s the part I have a problem with,” Marino said.
The bill originally called for violators to face a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Committee members quickly stripped jail time from the bill.
“It’s just a fine, basically to put some teeth in the law to keep people from just saying, ‘OK, I broke the law; so do something,'” Bagley told WBRZ in an interview Thursday afternoon. “That would give us something.”
What he probably would have been better off doing would have been to file separate bills saying similar things. For example, one bill would prevent any government entity in Louisiana from denying entry to a place of business, or requiring those premises to check, based on medical status. That would prevent any repetition of LaToya Cantrell’s stupid vaxx passport regime in New Orleans or the ill-fated duncery of LSU’s attempts to impose a vaxx passport at Tiger Stadium, which lasted about three weeks until they gave up on it.
The thornier question is what Marcelle and Marino brought up, and the reason that LABI opposes the bill, at least in its current form. What if private businesses are federal contractors or they’re hospitals or medical clinics or whatever, and to comply with those contracts they have to impose some sort of vaxx-mandate regime?
You could make the argument that Louisiana should stand up to the feds and keep Bagley’s bill as is. After all, that’s the kind of position Ron DeSantis is taking in Florida – though even there the vaxx-mandate opposition isn’t absolute.
For Denise Marcelle to somehow all of a sudden start touting the primacy of freedom of association is pretty rich. Her whole life she’s moaned about “discrimination,” and now it’s OK to discriminate against people over whether they took a shot or not? Seriously?
Richard Nelson, who’s in his first term representing St. Tammany Parish in the House, had a good quote on the subject…
“A criminal statute is not the means that we need to do in order to make this work,” Rep. Richard Nelson, a St. Tammany Parish Republican, said. “Most of these businesses, most of these private entities, I think you’ll agree, they should be free to do whatever they want. At the end of the day, what’s happening not just in Louisiana, but in the country, the government is forcing them to do this. And so we need to get rid of the government enforcing them to ask these questions in the first place.”
Maybe that’s the direction to move in. It violates somebody’s HIPAA rights, arguably, to ask them whether they’ve taken the COVID vaccine, and that’s not the same thing as asking them whether they have COVID – particularly when we now know that the vaccine doesn’t stop anybody from getting or spreading the virus. Most people would agree that someone who owns a store, for example, might well be within his or her rights to attempt to keep COVID patients from coming in and infecting fellow customers and store employees; the state of Louisiana shouldn’t interfere with that. But as the vaccine isn’t an ironclad defense to viral spread, perhaps you could define it as a violation of those rights and even potentially a cause of action if merchants or others attempted to bar entry to the public based on demands for proof of vaccine status.
And that could be a second bill for Bagley to push.
We would also suggest someone bring something barring the Louisiana Department of Health from advertising the vaccine as a way to prevent people from getting COVID. They’re blowing millions of dollars on ads like that, though the ones we’ve seen didn’t show up on LDH’s YouTube page. This did, though…
Ugh. Your tax dollars at work.
The thing about this whole debate is, no matter what Bagley comes up with it’s going to be vetoed. John Bel Edwards may have lifted the state’s COVID emergency declaration in a rare recognition of reality, but to sign a bill like this would be an admission that his virus policy was a mistake. That’s something you will never get from John Bel Edwards, the most pigheaded, intransigent politician Louisiana has ever had. So the real question is what can you get Democrat votes for?
We don’t know. But if Bagley can retool his bill so it’s a crystal clear policy choice – we would suggest sticking to a ban on state and local government vaxx passports or mandates on businesses and other owners of premises related to vaccines – it’ll be a very useful debate for the voters to see in advance of next year’s elections.