The Pennsylvania state House approved a bill on June 23 that would prevent government agencies and state-funded colleges and universities from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports. The legislation would also limit the power of health authorities during pandemics.
The measure, SB 618 (pdf), passed along party lines by a 112-89 vote, and now awaits the Senate’s concurrence on House amendments added to the bill. The Rules and Executive Nominations Committee of the Senate approved the amended bill on June 24.
The legislation would prohibit colleges or universities receiving state funds from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to use any service, attend a class in person, or undertake other activities. Government entities are subject to similar requirements and aren’t allowed to include vaccination information on an ID or develop an electronic tracking system for such information.
The bill would also prevent the secretary of health from ordering a closure or requiring an individual who hasn’t been exposed to a contagious disease to physically distance, wear a mask, quarantine, or restrict travel.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated that he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Republicans don’t have a supermajority to override the veto.
“I appreciate the House’s support for a plan that, at its core, is about placing checks and balances on unrestrained authority that was forced on the people of Pennsylvania for more than 15 months,” Republican Sen. Judy Ward, a co-author of the bill, said in a statement after the House approved the legislation.
“Whether mandating a vaccine, masking, social isolation, or business closures, today the General Assembly said no more to the government overreach and unprecedented intrusion on behalf of the people we represent. It is my hope the Governor will take time to review these provisions with an open mind.”
Republican Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, another co-author of the bill, highlighted the ban on vaccine passports when speaking about the measure.
“A government-issued vaccine passport is a bridge too far, especially in light of how the state’s contact tracing program failed more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians and their very personal health care data,” she said.
In April, a vendor working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health didn’t secure its data, and detailed medical information of more than 72,000 people was leaked online.
Democratic Sen. Jay Costa said during the June 24 Senate committee session that the bill is “unnecessary,” noting the governor had indicated that he has no intention to enact vaccine passports, and that he would veto the measure. Costa also called the limitations on the authority of the secretary of health “onerous provisions,” saying the health secretary wouldn’t “be able to administer her role in this particular case.”
More than 2 million Pennsylvanians voted in a primary election in May, and approved two constitutional amendments in ballot questions to restrict the governor’s emergency declaration powers and give some power back to the legislature.
However, many of the Wolf administration’s pandemic mitigation efforts under the health secretary’s authority remain active.