Some lawmakers call for special session restricting vaccine mandates, but it’s unlikely

Some state legislators are calling for a special session to limit requirements for vaccinations, but there don’t appear to be enough to actually happen.

A few senators and about 25 members of the House of Delegates have notified the Governor’s Office of their desire for a special session.

Three-fifths of the members of each chamber would be required for lawmakers to call themselves in — so that would be 21 senators and 60 delegates.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin publicly opposed that reason for a special session today and said the current tally of lawmakers means most are taking that view.

“The numbers are not there in the Senate, and that means it’s bipartisan,” Baldwin said.

Gov. Jim Justice, when asked late last month about a special session for that purpose, signaled that they could do so but he has no plans to assist.

“If lawmakers want to call themselves in, they can call themselves in,” Justice said Aug. 30.

Amy Summers

House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, is one of the lawmakers who sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice asking for a special session. The concern for Summers, who is a nurse, is healthcare facilities issuing vaccination mandates for workers.

Summers expressed concern in her letter that critical staffing could erode.

“We have long endured critical staffing levels throughout our hospital systems,” she wrote to the governor. “This mandate must be delayed one to two years at a minimum so as not to risk losing our dedicated healthcare workers when we need them the most.”

Summers also made that case today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” noting a staffing shortage that already exists at many healthcare facilities.

“The mandate is going to cause that staffing shortage to be worse,” she said.

Summers said there is enough information about the vaccine for covid-19 to make people feel comfortable taking it voluntarily. “I support the vaccine. I encourage people to get that,” she said.

Heather Tully

Another delegate who wrote to ask for a special session is Heather Tully, who represents parts of Nicholas and Greenbrier counties. Tully, who is also a nurse, cited the possibility of a staffing shortage too.

“In fact, vaccine mandates could worsen staffing issues even more if additional nurses choose to leave the bedside to pursue other opportunities where the vaccine isn’t mandated, choose to leave West Virginia for another state, or choose to leave the field of nursing completely,” Tully wrote to the governor.

Governor Justice has said he does not want to impose statewide mandates. But the governor has also pushed back on mandates against mandates.

Last month, when asked if he would veto legislation restricting mandates, Justice said it was too early to tell.

“I think its premature on how I’ll feel if they come up with something like you proposed,” he said then.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Craig Blair late last month asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for a formal opinion on how the state Constitution would guide public policy around vaccination requirements.

One of their questions was, “Does the W.Va. Constitution prohibit private organizations or businesses from implementing cither mandatory employee vaccinations or the use of vaccine passports in order to frequent the establishment?”

Democrats in the state Senate had a press conference today to express their opposition to a special session that would limit vaccination requirements.

Stephen Baldwin

“We are opposed to that because covid is raging across West Virginia now,” Baldwin said.

He added, “The point of speaking out today is to take a stand and say this is serious. People are in the hospital. They’re on ventilators. They’re dying.

West Virginia identified 22,972 active covid-19 cases today.

A month ago, August 9, there were 4,287 cases identified. A month earlier, July 9, there were just 882 cases.

Hospitalizations have skyrocketed.

The state most recently reported 818 covid-related hospitalizations, just five short of the all-pandemic high. Of those, 677 or 83 percent are unvaccinated patients.

There were 252 covid patients in intensive care units, shooting past the high of 219 in early January. Of those, 228 or 90.5 percent are unvaccinated.

And 132 covid cases currently require a ventilator, far beyond the previous high of 104 in January. Of those, 121 or almost 92 percent are unvaccinated.

Ron Stollings

Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is a family care physician who described an overloaded hospital system that is requiring the transfer of patients with serious conditions or injuries.

“Instead of putting obstacles and hurdles in front of our public health system, we should be supportive and listen to the experts,” Stollings said.

“We’re in a pickle here folks. And this thing about going into special session and doing away with well-thought-out CDC guidelines — it’s amazing to me we’re even thinking about it.”

Asked whether vaccine mandates by medical facilities might drive away some crucial staff, Stollings cited the positions in favor of such mandates by major medical organizations.

“If you’re going to quit nursing because you refuse to get a vaccine,” he said, “that’s a tragic loss.”

Sen. Richard Lindsay (D-Kanawha)

Senator Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, said it would be better to require vaccines to keep medical workers healthy. He said he wouldn’t stand in the way of medical providers who conclude they need to have such mandates.

“I think there’s a greater risk of a nursing shortage if nurses can’t go because they’ve got covid,” he said.

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