ATLANTA – The state House of Representatives gave final passage Thursday to legislation that would prohibit government agencies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access government facilities or services.
Last year, the General Assembly enacted a measure barring the use of a person’s COVID vaccine status to prevent access to government facilities, services or licenses. The law included an automatic repeal date of June 30, 2023.
The bill passed Thursday removes the repeal date, making the provision a permanent part of Georgia law. The bill passed the Republican-controlled chamber by a 99-69 nearly party line vote.
Senate Bill 1 continues a long debate about what role COVID vaccinations should play in public life in Georgia after they first began to be administered in December 2020.
“SB 1 is a simple bill. It extends in perpetuity the current law as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccination status by removing the sunset clause,” said Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth.
“The current law prevents government and all of its subdivisions, agencies and authorities from discriminating against citizens and denying services based on COVID vaccination status. I believe in [Georgians’] freedom and their liberty. I expect them to take all proper precautions just like they did before 2020.”
House Democrats opposed the measure, arguing the bill politicizes what should be a public health matter and expressing concerns about how it limits local control.
“This bill aims to eliminate the ability for government agencies, including public schools, to require COVID vaccination ‘as a condition of providing any service or access to any facility’,” said Rep. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek. “The harms posed by bills like this are not abstract. … Bills like this tie our hands with respect to the response we can provide.”
“I thought local control was a huge thing,” added Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville. “When does local control matter?”
The Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the measure, according to a letter the organization’s leaders sent to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last month.
“Permanently prohibiting schools from requiring vaccination could severely hinder our ability to combat the pandemic,” states the letter, which is signed by the group’s president, Dr. Angela Highbaugh-Battle, and legislative chairwoman Dr. Melinda Willingham.
“A permanent ban sets a dangerous precedent which may lead to erosion of the current vaccine requirements for school attendance for other diseases.”
Georgia has had 2.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35,153 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Only 59% of Georgians are fully vaccinated with both COVID vaccine doses.
The bill now moves to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.