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Wolf vetoes bill to ban schools, government from requiring proof of vaccination in Pa.

The so-called ‘vaccine passports’ bill also would have limited the health secretary’s power.

  • Brett Sholtis
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a COVID-19 vaccination site setup at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a COVID-19 vaccination site setup at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.

(Harrisburg) — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a Republican bill that would ban government entities, including school districts and some colleges, from requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access services.

The bill to ban so-called “vaccine passports” passed both chambers along party lines as Republicans voiced concerns that Pennsylvanians who did not get the COVID-19 vaccine would be denied entry to places of business or other public spaces. About 40% of adults in Pennsylvania are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill of York County, said it would prevent the introduction of something like New York’s “Excelsior pass,” a state-funded app that makes it easier for businesses such as restaurants to ask for proof of vaccination. New York itself does not require people to be vaccinated.

“Requiring a vaccine passport for Pennsylvanians to live their lives day-to-day represents an extreme government intrusion into people’s personal lives,” Phillips-Hill wrote in the memo for the bill. “This is particularly evident as we are dealing with citizens’ private medical information.”

Pa. Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol attack
As part of WITF’s commitment to standing with facts, and because the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we are marking elected officials’ connections to the insurrection. Read more about this commitment.
Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York County) and Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair County) are among several dozen state lawmakers who signed a letter urging members of Congress to delay certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes going to Joe Biden. The election-fraud lie led to the attack on the Capitol.

From the bill’s introduction, Wolf emphasized that he had no plan to require people to get vaccinated to use services or enter public spaces, though he said businesses and groups should be able to decide whether to require it. The bill would not have prohibited businesses or groups from setting up their own policies.

However, Wolf strongly opposed an amendment introduced by state Sen. Judy Ward of Blair County that would have prevented the state health secretary from requiring interventions such as mask wearing, social distancing or hand washing during future public health emergencies.

Calling the bill “contradictory, misguided and irresponsible,” Wolf said the health secretary’s ability to issue public health orders is essential to fighting infectious diseases.

“As we have seen with COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks, public health response measures are critical in saving lives of vulnerable residents,” Wolf said. “Health orders are needed to provide direction to health care providers, medical facilities, patients, and those likely exposed to a disease during a pandemic. “

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some state Republicans opposed Wolf’s business closure orders as well as Secretary of Health Rachel Levine’s orders requiring people to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

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