JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers, business lobbyists and protesters on Wednesday railed against President Joe Biden's planned vaccine mandate for large companies.
Business groups warned a panel of House legislators that Biden's plan would be catastrophic to small companies as protesters held handmade signs and rallied in the Capitol rotunda.
Biden announced last week that the Labor Department is working to require businesses with 100 or more employees to order those workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or show a negative test result at least weekly.
Biden announced the new mandate and several other steps last Thursday as part of a tougher effort by the administration to curb the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for sharp increase in U.S. infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
But the move sparked widespread outrage among Missouri's Republican-led Legislature.
House GOP leaders on Tuesday sent a letter to Biden calling the plan “blatantly unconstitutional” and calling on him to provide a legal justification for it.
They also called a hearing Wednesday — when lawmakers were already scheduled to come to the Capitol to consider overriding the governor's vetoes — that gave critics a chance to publicly vent.
“What we have seen this week from the Biden administration is anti-liberty, anti-American and, in my belief, unconstitutional,” Republican Rep. Nick Schroer said during the committee hearing.
Missouri Assisted Living Association lobbyist Jorgen Schlemeier said Biden's plan likely won't mean many more people get vaccinated in Missouri. He said some workers would rather quit and find another job than be vaccinated or face weekly testing.
“The mandate does not actually increase vaccination rates,” Schlemeier said. “It simply squeezes the balloon, and employees go in other directions from the 100-and-over employers, where they are now.”
Missouri Health Care Association Executive Director Nikki Strong said the mandate could “decimate” the long-term care workforce. She said one facility told her the impact will be “catastrophic.”
Strong also cautioned lawmakers that the mandate could be counterproductive to nursing homes' efforts to increase vaccination rates.
“It's almost created more of a pushback,” Strong said. “It's made our ability to educate and try to convince those to take the vaccine more difficult.”
Outside the hearing room, protesters carried signs that read “My body, my choice'' and ”Stop government mandates."
“This is our state,” Republican Sen. Bill Eigel told a cheering crowd in the rotunda, “And we don't have to do what Biden tells us to do.”
The Labor Department is working to issue an emergency rule to implement the mandate.