As the State of Delaware moves full steam ahead with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Senate lawmakers rejected a bill Tuesday that sought to strip the state’s authority to force vaccinations, quarantines, and self isolations on citizens against their will.
The legislation, Senate Bill 58, was struck down by Democrats following a lengthy, and at times contentious, debate of the bill that was considered in the Senate Executive Committee.
Senator Dave Lawson introduced the bill last month that would have removed the State’s authority to forcibly isolate, quarantine, vaccinate, or treat individuals against their will for COVID-19 during a state of emergency related to the disease.
“The genesis of the bill is public concern with forced vaccinations and the government forcing folks to do things against their will,” Senator Lawson explained as he opened the discussion on the bill at the hearing. “The concern was, one, the individuals being forced to do that, but then whenever the conversation came about with child vaccines that was really a concern. This limits the state’s ability to force that.”
A growing number of Delawareans across the state remain wary of the vaccines and refuse to be inoculated, citing a lack of research during the clinical trails and potential long-term adverse side effects. These concerns were echoed during the public comment period of the hearing where all who participated were opposed:
“I don’t think that this is something we should ever force somebody to take.” stated Clint Brothers, a Kent County resident who strongly supported the bill.
“Vaccinations, as with all other medical interventions, should be voluntary,” explained Amy LePore, a New Castle County resident who supports medical freedom. “No Delawarean should have to bear the image that accompanies the current codes of requirements that a loved one might one day be forcibly vaccinated or quarantined for what is tantamount to a flu.”
“If the state can forcibly inject a substance into your body then you have no ownership over your life, your body, you have no real rights,” stated Sam Chick, a Dover-area resident who feels the state’s ability to force such a measure would be unconstitutional. “It’s a base-violation of your natural inalienable rights.”
These concerns have been repeatedly dismissed by public health officials who remain steadfast that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) was on hand for Tuesday’s hearing and vehemently condemned the legislation.
DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay spoke at length during the hearing imploring the Senators who comprise the committee to reject the bill which she described as “disturbing.”
“The fact that this bill is being proposed to remove the state’s authority to use every tool at its disposal to protect the public’s health if needed, specifically the one virus that has created the biggest public health crisis’ of our lifetime, is quite frankly disturbing,” Dr. Rattay stated. “Although the state has the power to quarantine or isolate, based on the list of notifiable diseases, we have always considered this a power of last resort.”
This led to a back-and-forth exchange between Dr. Rattay and Senator Lawson, who questioned the state’s COVID-19 fatality data and defended his legislation.
“What about the healthy?,” Senator Lawson said in response to Dr. Rattay. “Are we overreaching here? Are we going after a vaccine that is experimental at best? It’s not approved by the FDA, only for use during this emergency, and folks are very concerned about that.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, chair of the committee that heard the legislation, agreed with Dr. Rattay’s statements and opposed the bill.
“I thought Dr. Rattay was very compelling,” Senator Sokola said. “This bill is strictly about COVID-19 which isn’t over yet and it prohibits the quarantining, vaccinating, and isolating from this specific circumstance. One thing we’ve learned over time is that variants occur and there may come a time when we need the tools in the box for this bill.”
Those opposed to the bill largely feel that such a measure would be unconstitutional. State public health officials have maintained that the measure would be constitutional by citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that had to do with the smallpox vaccination.
In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws in Jacobs v. Massachusetts. The Court ruled that individual liberty is not absolute.
The over a century old case was cited during the hearing by Dr. Rattay in an attempt to dismiss the notion that it would be unconstitutional to carry out such a measure, but the decision itself is actually much more nuance than that.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s finding that the state did not have the power to vaccinate by force a person that “deem[s] it important that vaccination should not be performed in his case.” However, the state could require the person to pay a nominal fine, according to a study of the issue and whether or not it could be revisited that was recently published by the CATO Institute.
With that being said, Delaware does have language in its code that says that the state may not forcibly administer vaccines if they pose a serious risk to the individual in question’s health. The law also states that the government must provide evidence that the person poses a serious risk to public health before they can force a vaccine or quarantine, therefore the authority is not limitless.
The state also provides full due process on the issue along with legal protections if it ever came to a point where they had to issue a vaccine mandate. Those who refuse to be inoculated under law would have the right to a hearing within 72 hours and, depending on the circumstances of the individual, the right to take it to court.
The most recent case where the state had to force such a measure involved an isolated tuberculosis outbreak where two individuals refused to comply with treatment and were forcibly vaccinated.
Following the committee hearing and their decision to reject the legislation, reporter Rob Petree was able to obtain comments outside Legislative Hall from Senator Lawson, who was troubled by the outcome and blamed the fact that it failed on Dr. Rattay.
“The Democrats on the committee saw fit that they would go with her [Dr. Rattay] instead of the public. That speaks clearly as to their lack of concern for the public,” Senator Lawson said. “It’s time we the people stand up and take our state back. This is absurd! There’s no reason for this, it doesn’t hurt them, it doesn’t keep them from doing anything, it keeps the people safe in their own decisions. There’s very few, very few, that came out against this bill, except Dr. Rattay who bows at the feet of Dr. Fauci and is leading our Governor around by the nose.”
Senator Brian Pettyjohn, a co-sponsor of the legislation and a member of the committee that considered the bill, echoed the concerns of his constituents who feel that it’s their body and therefore it should be their choice, not the government’s.
“There are a lot of people that are saying ‘if I want to get the vaccine then it should be my choice, the state should not be telling me that I have to get the vaccine,’” Senator Pettyjohn said. “The same thing with an isolation or quarantine. If they choose to quarantine or isolate, they want that to be their choice and not something that the government tells them to do.”
Senator Lawson vowed to continue his fight and had a message for Delawareans moving forward:
“We allow them to control us, the people, we have control and we have to take it and we have to make sure they understand it is our control. That is the people’s building,” Senator Lawson said pointing at Legislative Hall. “Laws come from this building, and this building only, not from the Governor, not from court, and not from regulation. They may be seen as laws, but they are false, they are pretend legislation, they are not legislation. Anything that runs contrary to the constitution is invalid, and we are notorious for being invalid.”
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