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Alaska Legislature

Kenai lawmaker proposes to forbid businesses, local governments and state of Alaska from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations

Desmond Schacht places a bandage on Eric Williams after administering a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Shiloh Baptist Church in Anchorage on April 1. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

JUNEAU — Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, has proposed new legislation that would forbid businesses, local governments and the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.

If House Bill 175 becomes law, businesses could not require employees to be vaccinated, and unvaccinated people could not be forbidden from accessing “an area or service that is open to the public.”

Similar ideas have been approved by Texas, Missouri, Florida and several other states with Republican-controlled legislatures. Surveys indicate that Republicans are much more reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Carpenter’s bill was introduced Wednesday, after Bering Straits Native Corp. — the parent company of Alaska Industrial Hardware — said it would require all 2,100 employees to be vaccinated. Some small cruise lines operating in Alaska also require their employees to be vaccinated.

In Southwest Alaska, the village of Kongiganak is allowing only vaccinated people to enter the town store, according to KYUK-FM. In Bethel, the city fitness center is open only to those who are vaccinated.

Carpenter would not answer questions about his proposal.

His bill has been referred to the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee for consideration. Committee co-chair Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, said he has read the bill.

“I think there are tremendous hurdles to it going anywhere,” he said. “I think there’s a resistance to mandate what businesses do and don’t do.”

The Alaska House of Representatives has already voted down a similar proposal. On March 25, Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, proposed amending a COVID-19 emergency bill to make vaccination status a civil rights issue. The amendment failed, 18-21.

The concept has not yet been judged by the full Alaska Senate, but on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 2-5 against a vaccine-related amendment to the same emergency bill.

The amendment, or another version, may return when the bill reaches the Senate floor, something expected next week.