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GOP Introduces Bill That Would Ban Federal Vaccine Passport

By Dave Simpson · May 28, 2021, 6:53 PM EDT

A group of Republican senators introduced a bill on Friday that would ban the federal implementation of so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports and prohibit the government from working with third parties to establish their own vaccine passports.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., would create a five-year ban on a government vaccine mandate, claiming that 23 states have already passed similar legislation.

"Americans shouldn't be discriminated against because of COVID-19 vaccine status – whether that is at work or in everyday life," Cruz said in a release. "Americans have a well-established right to privacy that any mandated vaccine passport would destroy. A vaccine passport would be discriminatory against people who, for whatever reason, do not get the COVID-19 vaccine."

Lummis framed it as a privacy issue.

"The government should not be in the business of exposing Americans' private health information," she said. "Our job should be to protect citizens' privacy rights – that's what the 4th Amendment of our Constitution is about."

Since the start of the public vaccine rollout, there's been a patchwork of legislation across the country attempting to grapple with vaccine verification and passports.

New York has unveiled what it calls an "Excelsior Pass" — the state's version of a vaccine passport that will be used for vaccine verification purposes.

Santa Clara, California, which covers the area around Silicon Valley, imposed a mandate May 18 giving employers until June 1 to track whether their workers have received a vaccine. They must also check back in every two weeks thereafter with workers who are unvaccinated or those who don't respond. Any worker who opts not to respond must be treated as unvaccinated under the policy.

In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans vaccine passports, enshrining into law what he'd previously enacted through an April executive order.

S.B. 2006 blocks any business or government entity in the Sunshine State from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry, while also blocking local governments from closing businesses or schools, except for in the case of hurricanes.

DeSantis signed his executive order on April 2, stating that vaccine passports "reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy." Moreover, requiring them to participate in everyday life activities such as attending a sporting event or going to a restaurant or movie theater "would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination," according to the executive order.

The state Legislature followed suit, codifying the restrictions into S.B. 2006. Legal experts told Law360 in April that the restrictions could wind up in court.

Also in April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies and political subdivisions from creating vaccine passport requirements that would condition receipt of services on an individual's vaccination status. Saying vaccines "are always voluntary and never forced," Abbott's order also prohibits publicly funded organizations from requiring vaccine passports.

--Editing by Ellen Johnson.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.