Reyes joins 23 other state attorneys general threatening lawsuit over Biden’s vaccine mandates

ST. GEORGE — The attorneys general of 24 states – including Utah – issued a joint letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday demanding his administration drop its vaccine mandates for businesses or face legal action.

In this file photo, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks at the 2014 Utah Republican Nomination Convention, Sandy, Utah, April 26, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The letter calls the mandates “disastrous and counterproductive” and even declares the action “illegal.” It further decries the mandates as a one-size-fits-all solution that fails to recognize “differences between employees that justify more nuanced treatment by employers.” It is not good policy, the letter states, but is rather “power for power’s sake.”

The mandate would be handed down through an Occupational Safety and Health Act emergency temporary order impacting businesses with 100 or more employees. Under the order all employees must be either vaccinated or submitted to weekly testing.

“I am committed to continuing leading with my colleagues to push back and fight this mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” Utah Attorney General Reyes said Thursday in a press release. “Both employers and employees in Utah, with unprecedented fervor, have flooded my office with messages of dire concern and extreme opposition to the proposed mandate. I firmly agree.”

In remarks given Sept. 9, Biden said there were 80 million Americans who hadn’t been vaccinated and that “many of us are frustrated with them” because of it. As such, going through OSHA and mandating businesses of 100 employees or more be vaccinated or tested regularly is seen as a way to help counter that. Moreover, the president stated he is doing this because he had the federal authority to do so.

In this file photo, President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House on the COVID-19 response and vaccination program, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021 | Associated Press file photo by Susan Walsh, St. George News

Reyes and the 24 other attorneys general disagree, and wrote in their letter that the OSHA emergency orders, which have been rare in the past, have only been upheld once by the courts.

The letter also highlights concerns that threatening to fire people if they do not get the vaccine will not only serve to raise vaccine skepticism but also threaten to strain “an already-too-tight labor market, burdening companies and (therefore) threatening the jobs of even those who have received the vaccine.”

As the loss of employment also means a loss of income, this can lead to a potential loss of housing, as well as the loss of benefits like health insurance and retirement, the attorneys general argue. They also mention many health care workers potentially leaving their jobs over mandates as well, leading to a possible public health crisis in that regard.

Other points the attorneys general argue is that the Labor Department should not have any say in the individual health decisions of employees, and that the mandate itself is overly broad.

“As announced, the mandates are not tailored to real-world business realities such as telecommuting and threaten jobs when the workforce is most vulnerable financially,” the Thursday press release from Reyes’ office states.

In this file photo, a man receives the COVID-19 vaccine inside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Feb. 11, 2021. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Utah was joined on the letter by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Locally, Washington County officials have expressed no love for mandates from the federal or state level, and passed a resolution to that effect in August. The resolution, passed by the Washington County Commission, reaffirmed the commission’s stance against public health mandates and lockdowns.

Present at the commission meeting when the resolution was passed was Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. While he stressed he believes people who can be vaccinated should do so, he also supported the resolution, saying mandates can do more harm than good as they can cause people to react opposite to what mandate demands.

In this file photo, St. George Regional Hospital Medical Director Dr. Patrick Carroll speaks alongside Emergency Department Operations Director Jared Stevens at the groundbreaking of the Hurricane Campus of St. George Regional Hospital on June 16, 2021 Hurricane, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Mandates get in the way of good public health policy, which is to inform people on the best way to take care of their own health,” Blodgett said. “Often and almost always, it’s too much government interference in that process that doesn’t further that (goal), but makes it much more difficult.”

More recently, Dr. Patrick Carroll, St. George Regional Hospital’s medical director, also said he believes education about the vaccines, and not mandates, is the key to getting more people vaccinated.

“A mandate is only as effective as people willing to follow the mandate. What we see in Southern Utah are people unwilling to follow a mandate,” he said. “What we can do is educate people to help them see it is the right thing to do.”

Carroll’s message echoes that of Cedar City resident Kerry Gunter, who nearly died a month ago of COVID-19 and told St. George News it was talking with his doctor that convinced him to get vaccinated, rather than what he said was “shaming” to get the vaccine. Though in Gunter’s case, he contracted the virus before he had a chance to get the vaccine and ended up in St. George Regional’s intensive care unit.

If people are going to educate themselves online, Carroll recommends leaning on large-sample studies from university or major medical association sources.

“Looking at .edu and .gov sites is more reliable,” he said.

On Friday evening,  Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, along Senate President Stuart J. Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, issued a joint statement against Biden’s vaccine mandates.

The president’s unilateral decision to force American businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines as a condition of employment grossly exceeds his authority. Not only is this mandate contrary to his previous promises, but this declaration violates the principles and processes that are the bedrock of good government. As elected officials, we will not turn a blind eye to this power grab and will do our part to uphold the principles of separation of powers and individual liberty.

We reaffirm our continued support for the vaccination effort. Vaccines have proven to be the most effective measure we can take to reduce the strain on our hospitals and save lives. However, requiring employers to force these decisions upon their employees is not the proper role of government and should not become the new precedent.

St. George News reporter Chris Reed contributed to this article.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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