California voters have long been excoriated by commentators for the 1994 passage of Proposition 187, which severely limited state services for illegal immigrants. Among other things, it required teachers and nurses to report suspected illegal immigrants to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, effectively becoming INS agents. Those were among the reasons the initiative was thrown out of federal court.
Now Prop. 187-style enforcement requirements could be imposed due to COVID-19. A measure by Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), and Evan Low (D-Campbell) would mandate proof of vaccination “before entering restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, hotels, stadiums and other indoor establishments.” That’s according to a draft summary of the law obtained by the Sacramento Bee. There’s no bill number or text yet available to read.
If passed, the state Department of Health would be required to develop an enforcement plan by Nov. 1.
It would mean waitresses, bartenders, movie ushers, gym workers, and stadium ticket-takers would be turned into police officers for the Department of Health. Would they be fined severely for doing their jobs poorly, or not at all? Would they receive special training? Who would pay for that?
In a state with an ongoing labor shortage, it’s easy to see these employees quitting to do something else. And if they’re fired, would they be given unemployment? If not, would there be thousands of lawsuits against the already overburdened and only partly reformed Employment Development Department?
According to the Bee, “The new law would exempt children who aren’t eligible for vaccines and people who aren’t eligible due to a medical condition or disability, subject to verification.” Would that include the controversial “conscience” exemption some religious groups have advanced? What about the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, also guaranteed in the California Constitution?
The proposal comes with the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19. But will the increase in infections recede by November, when the law would go into effect, the way previous surges have receded after a couple of months?
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) on Aug. 25 proposed a resolution suspending all members of the Legislature who haven’t been vaccinated. The suspensions would be imposed just ahead of the Legislature’s Sept. 10 adjournment date.
At the end of session, the Assembly and state Senate camp out in their separate chambers for many hours per day to hammer out legislation. “No other job has people locked up in a room for two weeks,” Levine said. “There’s only one bathroom off the chamber. There’s only one place to get coffee off the chamber. Even if we don’t get sick, we can be carriers.”
The Los Angeles Times reported its survey of the 40 senators and 80 assemblymen and found that 12 of them refused to disclose their vaccination status, 11 being Republicans. That’s 39 percent of the GOP’s already minuscule representation of 28 legislators. So their ranks would be reduced to 17.
Moreover, even if the unvaccinated got the jab today, according to the CDC, “It typically takes 2 weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19. That means it is possible a person could still get COVID-19 before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to build protection.”
That means the Levine resolution would expel the 11 members for the rest of the 2021 session, with no recourse for those affected. It’s hard to think of anything more anti-democratic.
Here’s a better idea: The Legislature should adjourn until next January. It already passed the key budget bills. Few of the hundreds of bills left on the calendar should be passed anyway. Anything worthwhile can wait until January.