The House voted to require all members and staff to be fully vaccinated if they want to work out of the State House, agreeing to strict new COVID-19 health protocols that will put it mostly in line with the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker’s policies on employee vaccination. You can view the order by clicking here.
The measure is the first step toward reopening the State House to all legislators, staff and, eventually, lobbyists, advocates and the general public.
The 131-28 vote came after about two hours of debate during which leaders in the House described the vaccine mandate as an essential step to protecting the health of legislators and the more than 450 employees who work in the House.
“As an employer we have a duty to our employees to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards, including COVID-19,” said Rep. William Galvin, chair of the House Rules Committee.
Many of the details, including the deadline to be vaccinated, must now be established by a new House Working Group on COVID-19, which was also created by the order. The working group is expected to mirror the makeup of the panel that developed the House reopening strategy, and Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan said the expectation is that the deadline to show proof of vaccination will be Nov. 1.
Hogan, who will lead the new working group, also said masks will be required in all House-controlled spaces in the State House, including offices, and that accommodations will be available for anyone with a medical issue or sincerely held religious belief preventing them from being vaccinated.
The vote also declared a COVID-19 state of emergency in the House, triggering a set of rules that would allow any member, including those who don’t want to get vaccinated or show proof of vaccination, to continue to vote and participate in House business remotely.
Rep. Michael Day, the co-chair of Judiciary Committee, gave a lengthy legal defense of the order, walking through the state’s Constitution and the legal precedents established during the smallpox epidemic for the Legislature to require vaccines and to set its own rules for itself.
Day, who contracted the COVID-19 virus early in the pandemic, criticized those who said legislators with underlying health risks should simply stay home. He compared those statements to Marie Antoinette saying, “Let them eat cake.”
“If you believe your sense of individual freedom requires you to vote against this, that is your prerogative, but it tells your friends, our colleagues and our collective staff that you value their health less than your political talking point,” Day said.