County legislature lukewarm over proposal to officially oppose vaccination warrants

FONDA – The Montgomery County Legislature had mixed reactions this week to the introduction of a resolution by Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort proposing that the county formally oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates .

The resolution was presented to the Legislature at Tuesday’s meeting for consideration. Ossenfort said the resolution focuses primarily on the pending federal mandate announced by President Joe Biden in September.

The federal mandate would require private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to produce a negative coronavirus test every week before coming to work. The mandate was announced amid rising infection rates associated with the easily transmitted delta variant and declining vaccination rates.

Biden tasked the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to implement the requirement through an emergency temporary standard that has yet to be released. The effective date of the new rule has not yet been announced.

Ossenfort said Thursday he supported the coronavirus vaccine and had vaccinated himself, but believes the mandates make it more difficult for individuals and businesses to overcome the impacts of the pandemic.

“I think it’s a chicken game, a method of trying to get people vaccinated, but there is a very real impact on people and their daily lives,” Ossenfort said. “The vaccine is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, but it is not the only one. Many people have suffered in one way or another. Taking this step is going to make things more difficult for people in the community, that’s where my sympathies are. “

The mandate, he said, will place an additional burden on local employers who were already struggling to hire and retain before the pandemic worsens conditions. Ossenfort called the mandate a disservice to the businesses and employees who have struggled to continue over the past year and a half.

“A lot of these big companies have been very responsible and have gone out of their way to keep their businesses running and keep employees safe during the pandemic. I don’t think these mandates send the right message, ”Ossenfort said.

He said several large local employers had expressed concerns about the impacts over the past year, but could not point to any specific companies that have spoken out on the pending federal mandate.

Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Kilmer said on Friday he had heard concerns about the vaccination mandates of a few large employers in the two counties and he suspects there are d other businesses with 100 or more employees who oppose the federal rule on hold.

“The majority of our companies who are concerned about the safety of employees and the community at large are unlikely to be in favor of the mandate,” Kilmer said.

Although the local market is primarily made up of small businesses falling below the federal mandate threshold, Kilmer said there are still many distributors, manufacturers, construction companies, trucking companies and retailers in Montgomery County that will be affected. .

Kilmer suggested that business owners will worry about the hiring and retention issues made worse if they implement a vaccine mandate, the logistics of implementing weekly testing instead, and their own beliefs that can make them resistant to the application of the federal mandate.

“I think this is going to frustrate some of our members because they won’t know what to do,” Kilmer said.

Ossenfort said the county has been proactive in distributing the coronavirus vaccine to residents since it became available. The Montgomery County Public Health Department has also organized several clinics at large local businesses to encourage members of the workforce and the general public to get vaccinated.

Still, only 28,584 county residents are fully immunized, representing 68.4% of the population aged 12 and older eligible to receive the vaccine, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, 177 new coronavirus infections have been reported among county residents and 38 new hospital admissions in the past seven days.

Ossenfort suggested that more focus should be placed on ensuring that companies have appropriate supplies of personal protective equipment to keep employees safe instead of vaccination warrants, noting that people vaccinated can become infected and spread the disease. virus.

However, the CDC said that vaccinated people are less likely to be infected than unvaccinated people and that the vaccine significantly reduces the likelihood of serious illness, hospitalization or death.

The resolution to formally oppose vaccination mandates presented to the Montgomery Legislature on Tuesday received mixed reactions, with District 6 lawmaker John Duchissi questioning the intent of the legislation.

“Other than making a statement on an opinion, what’s the point,” Duchessi said.

District 9 lawmaker Robert Purtell has spoken out against passing county resolutions purely to make a declaration.

“They never did anything other than create some kind of polarization,” Purtell said. “I can’t stand sending a letter that has no teeth or other purpose than to make a statement. I don’t think it’s productive.

Legislative Assembly Speaker Michael Pepe has asked other lawmakers to comment on whether they want the resolution formally presented at a future meeting. In the straw poll that followed, five members voted to send the bill to committee for formal review and discussion.

Among those interested in discussing the resolution were District 1 lawmaker Martin Kelly, District 2 lawmaker Brian Sweet, District 5 lawmaker Daniel Wilson, District 8 lawmaker Joseph Isabel and Pepe. None of the five indicated whether they were in favor of the resolution itself.

Despite the straw poll result, Pepe said on Friday that the resolution was unlikely to be on the agenda for the next committee meeting due in part to the mixed reaction from the Legislature and the need to focus on preparing the county budget this month.

“I think for now we are going to let the sleeping dogs lie and move forward with the budget unless another lawmaker lifts it up and categorically wants to vote on it,” Pepe said.

Pepe said he had not fully trained on the resolution despite his support for the measure for formal discussion in the straw ballot.

“I thought if half the members were interested in entertaining him, it might be worth bringing him back for a formal vote,” Pepe explained.

Passage of the resolution, Pepe admitted, would be purely symbolic in nature.

“The reality is that this type of government cannot take precedence over federal and state mandates, so there is no real value in a resolution of this nature other than making a statement,” Pepe said. “It’s not like we can challenge the federal government and the state governments, because the majority of us think it may not be necessary.”

Still, Pepe sympathized with business owners who will incur the expense of implementing weekly testing for unvaccinated employees or face the prospect of losing staff who would refuse vaccination if it is mandatory for employees. .

“In the opinion of some of these big companies, there is a bit of disbelief as to why now, when we are at a totally different stage of the virus than in the last 18 months where it was not necessary “said Pepe.

Ossenfort disagreed with the view of some lawmakers that the resolution would serve no purpose, indicating that such activities are aimed at influencing policy at the state and federal levels.

However, Ossenfort said the resolution’s presentation was a valuable way to get the views of lawmakers on the issue. Especially since he is due to meet Governor Kathy Hochul at the end of next week with other county leaders where he anticipates vaccination mandates will be part of the discussion.

Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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