CHARLESTON – An effort to show a united front among Republican members of the West Virginia Senate has ended up showing more caucus rifts over the need for a special session to block potential COVID-19 mandates.
Senate Speaker Craig Blair R-Berkeley held a press conference outside the Senate Chamber with several members of the Republican caucus on Tuesday to address concerns from members of the public who want lawmakers to act to prevent private vaccine warrants , Mask Warrants and Other COVID-19 Mitigation Options.
“I have been in the legislature for 20 years, and I have never encountered a problem where I have not been able to make a decision almost like this, especially since the facts present themselves”, a Blair said. “Now, one of the cool parts about it is that facts – I call them variables – change on a daily basis. It is very difficult to deal with this. “
Blair said there was not enough support within the Republican Senate caucus to call in special session to consider any type of ban on private companies requiring employees to be vaccinated or to ban public mask mandates. and private. The state constitution requires three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate to meet in extraordinary session – 60 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate.
“At the moment, we don’t have the ability to call each other,” Blair said. “Everything that I’ve seen so far, we haven’t been able to do it, and keep in mind that our caucuses are made up of all walks of life. And so there are a lot of different perspectives.
State Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said there was also not enough support in the 23-member Republican caucus to get the 18 votes needed to pass legislation within the 34-member body dealing with specific COVID-19 issues. Work continues to develop legislation that a simple majority of the Senate can support.
“We’ve been negotiating, as a group, what a position might be… in the Senate for quite a while now,” Tarr said. “It has been weeks and weeks we should be in regards to any vaccine that comes out and what laws and regulations should be around that vaccine. “
Tarr said Senate Republicans are also negotiating with Republicans in the House of Delegates and Gov. Jim Justice’s office over possible legislation for a future special session for the next general session in 2022. Issues include the legality of vaccine passports or proof of vaccination by private entities and vaccine policies. Tarr acknowledged that there are differences of opinion between the two houses and the two branches of government.
“These negotiations are sometimes fragile because they are about to be able to do something, and sometimes they are moving away from it,” Tarr said. “With that in mind, we have tried to move these negotiations forward as much as possible. “
While not all Senate Republicans agree on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines protect against severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and death, many agreed that vaccines should be a choice either by individuals or by private companies.
The most marked differences were between Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, and State Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood. Although Takubo believes vaccination should be a choice and not a mandate, he strongly supports vaccination. Azinger, on the other hand, is totally against vaccine requirements, even at the private sector level.
“Obviously, I am a strong advocate,” said Takubo, a pulmonologist who spoke at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing with Justice. “I think as many people as possible should get the vaccine. I believe that vaccines work and save lives, but I also strongly believe that people should be free to choose what they should and should not do.
“Many of us in the caucus believe (…) that the government or private companies do not have the right to tell an individual, an employee, to put a vaccine in his body that so many people are afraid of. “, he added. said Azinger, who is supporting a special session. “With all due respect to (Blair) here … But some of us are very attached to this issue.”
All seemed to agree in their opposition to President Joe Biden’s new demands to require vaccines for federal employees and contractors, as well as for private companies with more than 100 employees. Blair called on Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to press charges to block Biden’s warrants or join other lawsuits being considered by other states.
“If we don’t do it now, we will have strong precedents to set in the future on many other issues,” said Blair. “The federal government has gone far too far in putting these mandates in place. “
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]