PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued an executive order Wednesday aimed at ensuring that state employees can easily obtain medical and religious exemptions from federal vaccine mandates.
Noem said the move was necessary to ensure that employees aren’t forced to get COVID-19 vaccinations under President Joe Biden’s initiative, which covers not only people directly paid by federal contracts but also anyone who works to support them.
State lawmakers have said South Dakotans are being denied medical and religious exemptions from feds and have called for a special session to stop it. Noem spokesman Jordan Overturf said Noem’s exemptions are “explicit and offer a clear path” for state workers to opt out of the shots.
For medical exemptions, state employees need a note from a doctor stating that the vaccination is too risky because of health reasons. For religious exemptions, workers need to fill out and sign a form stating they object to the COVID-19 vaccine based “on religious grounds, which includes moral, ethical, and philosophical beliefs or principles.” Once either forms are submitted, the exemptions are automatic, Overturf said.
Noem said she is talking to lawmakers about extending those protections to private employees.
Noem earlier criticized proposals by Republican lawmakers to ban vaccine mandates as “not conservative” because they’re telling businesses what to do and how to treat their employees. This order, Overturf said, is about upholding rights already included in the Constitution and it’s “not growing government” to clarify the protection of those rights.
“She has repeatedly said private businesses should offer medical and religious exemptions for COVID vaccine mandates,” Overturf said.