By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Unvaccinated people face discrimination, the House Judiciary Committee heard in testimony Wednesday on two bills.
One bill, House Bill 1260 would make the unvaccinated a protected class by the state, along with race, age, sex, gender identity, marital status, national origin, etc. to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.
The other bill, House Bill 1460, would prohibit barring unvaccinated people or those who refuse to wear a mask from access to public accommodations.
“This is really about discrimination,” said physician Gary York of Hopkinton. “It’s clear that this is discrimination.”
York like several other people testifying in favor of the bills, gave examples of what they said was discrimination due to their vaccine status.
Bill opponents said it would prevent employers from deciding what is best for their employees, their customers or the public.
And they said requiring vaccinations of many kinds has been a condition of employment for many businesses and organizations for years.
The prime sponsor of HB 1260, Rep. Juliet Harvey-Bolia, R-Tilton, said it is a natural civil right to have bodily integrity and not have to contend with a series of shots.
She faced questions from several committee members if a person makes a personal decision with societal repercussions belongs in the discrimination statute.
Rep. Charlotte DiLorenzo, D-Newmarket, said she has trouble seeing how unvaccinated becomes a protected class.
“I think of religion, sex, race or gender identity as immutable or generic,” she said. “How does immunization status fit into that characteristic?”
She said vaccine status can be controlled.
Harvey-Bolia said there are other protected classes such as physical or mental disability that can be controlled.
“An overweight person, or someone who neglected their health,” she said, “there are some conditions that will (cause) disabilities a medical professional would say could be controlled or prevented.”
Committee chair Rep. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol, noted schools currently require students to have a number of vaccinations to attend. He asked Harvey-Bolia, if her bill on immunization status would affect that requirement.
“I believe it is possible this would possibly affect schools in the same way gender identity may impact schools,” Harvey-Bolia said. “We are protecting civil rights.”
Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, asked if the parent of a three-year-old, who currently cannot be vaccinated, wants that child to have a vaccine, could the parent sue to accomplish that under the bill.
“Who are you walling in and who are you walling out,” she asked.
Harvery-Bolia said her bill is not about forcing some people to take a vaccine or wear a medical device as the medical advice changes constantly and rapidly.
“This is more theoretical. Should it be a civil right for people to have equal protection under the law,” Harvey-Bolia said, “to remain as they are unvaccinated, to be given protection.”
The sponsor of HB 1260, Rep. Barbara Comtois, R-Center Barnstead, said her bill protects the civil rights of those who refuse to be vaccinated or wear a mask and ensures entitlement to fully participate in society without discrimination or repression.
“Any discrimination of any kind cannot be tolerated,” she said, “because of a person’s decision.”
She claimed discrimination happens all the time against those without a vaccination or who refuse to wear a mask, noting people with sexually transmitted diseases are not discriminated against.
Comtois said her sister-in-law died of a heart attack shortly after receiving the vaccine and said in another situation 17 people who were vaccinated developed Bell’s Palsy.
But when questioned about the 17 people Comtois said she heard that from another representative.
People should not be forced to take something they do not know what it is, she said, putting people at risk.
“People should have a choice,” Comtois said. “That is a choice that is afforded us under the constitution.”
Both bills were opposed by the New Hampshire Hospital Association.
Kathy Bizarro-Thunberg of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said it would be inappropriate to add vaccination status to the state’s discrimination law.
She noted there are a number of similar bills and they all add more confusion for employers and employees over what may or may not be required.
Employers have a right to determine what is best for their employees and their customers, she said.
“It is not new for hospitals in New Hampshire to have requirements for vaccinations as a condition of employment,” Bizarro-Thunberg said, noting “the vast majority of (of hospital employees) are vaccinated or have an exemption.”
Rep. Michael Sylvia, R-Belmont, asked if it were the hospital association’s position that patients be vaccinated before receiving treatment.
Bizarro-Thunberg said it is not. Hospitals treat any patient regardless of vaccination status, she said.
But she noted, hospitals require anyone entering the facility to wear a mask.
Victoria Gulla of Spofford said she has experienced discrimination because she cannot wear a mask after suffering a lung injury from wearing one for a short time.
She said her son, who has a medical condition, has been unable to attend a public charter school because a pediatric physician refused to approve an exemption because he is afraid of losing his license.
Gulla accused the NH Hospital Association and the Centers for Disease Control of lying about COVID-19, and said someone needs to tell the truth.
Gordon tried to confine Gulla’s testimony to the bill, and asked not to make it personal, but she said it is personal to her.
“People in public accommodations are forcing you to wear things that provide no protection,” Gulla said, “and people are being lied to and being lied to by the hospitals who teach surgeons how to wear masks.”
York also told of discrimination involving one family member who lost his job because he refused to be vaccinated.
“This is not a pandemic of the unvaccinated as you have heard and heard,” York said, noting there is a great deal of pressure on people to get the vaccine.
“But he said it is clear it is not working as the vaccinated and unvaccinated carry the same viral load,” he said “it has failed miserably.”
He told of a restaurant that requires a “vaccine passport” to enter on certain nights of the week.
“It boils down to discrimination,” York said, “if you allow a public venue to require vaccine passports to enter their building.”
The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on either bill.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.