Politics

Alaska joins 9 other states in lawsuit to stop Biden vaccine mandate for federal contractors

Alaska and nine other Republican-led states sued the Biden administration Friday to challenge the president’s order that federal contractors require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

President Joe Biden issued the mandate last month as part of a broader policy to boost vaccinations, affecting as many 100 million Americans. It gives federal contractors no option for a testing alternative and puts at risk federal contracts if employees aren’t vaccinated. It provides exemptions, such as for religious grounds. Contractors have until Dec. 8 to comply.

The lawsuit argues that Biden overstepped his legal authority, violating the U.S. Constitution with a requirement that should be left to states to decide, according to the 44-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in eastern Missouri.

“The power to impose vaccine mandates, to the extent that any such power exists, is a power reserved to the states,” the lawsuit says.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a prepared statement Friday that medical choice is an individual freedom for Americans.

“President Biden’s attempt to force vaccinations is, at the root of it, unAmerican,” Dunleavy said. “These mandates cause division at a time where we need to work together. Forced medical decisions are counterintuitive — destroying America’s sense of fairness and liberty.”

The other states included in the lawsuit are Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Over 13,000 federal contracts above $100,000 were awarded in Alaska in 2020, with some businesses receiving multiple contracts, said Carolyn Pratt, program manager for Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Anchorage, a federally created program to help business navigate federal contracting procedures. The departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Interior awarded the most contracts in Alaska in 2020, Pratt said.

The contractor mandate affects the Alaska Railroad, which benefits from millions of dollars in federal grants and contracts. The railroad’s board of directors this week rescinded a requirement, announced days earlier, that employees be vaccinated by Dec. 8. A little more than half the railroad’s 692 employees are vaccinated.

The railroad board’s decision to rescind its vaccine requirement for workers followed legal challenges to the federal mandate, including an amended complaint to a lawsuit filed by the Arizona attorney general to block the mandate.

The lawsuit filed Friday does not challenge another new mandate from Biden, this one calling on private businesses with more than 100 workers to ensure that employees are vaccinated or tested weekly against the virus, that has drawn mixed reactions from Alaska businesses. Supporters say it will help combat a labor shortage by slowing the spread of the virus while opponents say it could force some workers to quit and add cost and uncertainty to businesses.

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor signed onto the lawsuit to represent Alaska.

The filing argues that the new mandate raises legal questions by arbitrarily singling out federal contractors and also conflicts with the mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees, since there is no testing option for the contractors.

“Our laws prohibit this type of action, which is overreaching and inconsistently applied,” Taylor said in a prepared statement. “This order improperly tries to use the force of law to punish federal contractors for decisions that should be left to them and their employees. Fortunately, federal and state law prohibits these bully tactics.”

Many contractors have said all their employees won’t be vaccinated by Dec. 8, according to the prepared statement.

Two other Republican-led states, Texas and Florida, have each filed separate lawsuits challenging the mandate, bringing the total number of states challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement to 12 across three federal courts.

Georgia, leading another group of states, announced Friday that they would file a similar federal lawsuit to try to block the contractor requirements. The suit had not been filed when it was announced.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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