OKLAHOMA CITY — Two Republican lawmakers want to require employers to pay at least $1 million in punitive damages if they mandate vaccinations and an employee believes they became ill or suffered an injury as a result.
Senate Bill 1106, called the Citizen Health Mandate Protection Act, states that employers, if found liable, would be automatically subject to punitive damages of at least $1 million if they require vaccinations or medicinal treatment programs without first confirming safety-based “publicly available medical testing and documentation.”
State Rep. Wendi Stearman, R-Collinsville, said the measure is necessary because individual liberty and freedoms for medical choice are under state and federal threat.
Stearman said she supports the free market economy, but for the past 18 months, that free market has not been permitted to operate without influences from entities like the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
She said there’s been a one-sided narrative involving vaccines and the nature of the COVID-19 virus.
“We’ve already had cases where the government has overreached,” she said. “Government has basically set up the narrative that this is dangerous and scared people. People are just in a frenzy, both business owners and individuals. And so, in light of that government overreach, I think it is necessary to do all that we can to defend individual liberties.”
She said the measure is not an attack on employers; instead, it is a protection of the individual.
“I am 100% supportive of a limited government,” she said. “I am here to defend the individual against any kind of intrusion from government.”
State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, the Senate author, did not return a message seeking comment by deadline.
Chad Warmington, the CEO of the State Chamber of Commerce, panned the measure as part of a “troubling trend from politicians” who campaign on pledges of limited government, but once elected “start heaping overreaching government regulations on small-business owners.”
Warmington said the bill, and others like it, amount to “a direct assault” on the ability of small-business owners to make a living. The state chamber believes businesses should have the choice of whether to require vaccinations and wants no government involvement that process.
“Senate Bill 1106 does nothing to stop the federal overreach. It just hurts Oklahoma companies who are doing their best to navigate a difficult situation and gives lawyers a bonanza of new lawsuits to bleed businesses dry,” Warmington said in a statement. “Oklahomans shouldn’t be deceived by politicians looking to pull the wool over their eyes with counterproductive bills that make cheap talking points, but no substantive progress toward the goal of getting the government off of people’s backs.”
State Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said SB 1106 amounts to “government intervention for private business.”
“I’m just very, very amused at this sudden turn of events that all my colleagues who traditionally think government needs to get out of everyone’s lives now [are] desperately attempting to insert them everywhere they can for reasons that have no foundation in science,” he said.
Bennett said the bill capitalizes on “this season of lies” that is controlling politics during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the measure encourages misinformation and “lazy, lazy research.”
“I don’t really know how we proceed here because these bills are not responding to any facts, and at that point, it becomes pretty difficult to have a policy-based discussion with people who are bringing policy proposals to the table that do not have any foundation in fact,” he said.
Bennett said he hopes it’s not a bill that the Legislature will spend any time on this session.
He said he’ll vote against the legislation, and said he’s certain most of his Democratic colleagues will, too.