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New state law seeks to close vaccination exemption misuse

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law clarifying the legislative intent of the Health Care Right of Conscience Act so that it cannot be abused or misinterpreted to jeopardize workplace safety through inappropriate vaccination refusal.

The amendment to the act will ensure the long tradition of vaccine requirements by employers can continue with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state officials. The governor signed the amendment to the act on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

Votes cast by Illinois legislators representing Homewood and Flossmoor: House members Reps. Debbie Meyers-Martin, William Davis and Thaddeus Jones voted ‘yes’ and Rep. Anthony DeLuca voted ‘no.’ Senator Napoleon Harris III did not cast a vote. Senator Patrick Joyce voted ‘no.’

SB 1169 will be effective June 1, 2022.

“Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” Pritzker said. “Keeping workplaces safe is a high priority, and I applaud the General Assembly for ensuring that the Health Care Right of Conscience Act is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act was originally enacted to allow medical professionals to refuse to receive or participate in healthcare services that are contrary to their personal beliefs, including religious or moral objections to specific services, such as abortion.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials believe the law has been improperly invoked to evade employers’ requirements for testing, masking and vaccines. The misuse of the law’s original intent has put customers, staff and community members at risk by exposing employers to legal retaliation for enacting life-saving public health measures.

“Despite deliberate attempts to misinform the public, nothing about this law takes away anyone’s rights to claim religious or medical exemption, which are protected by federal law,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D- Westchester). “While only a small minority of people are skirting COVID-19 requirements, our goal is to make sure workers in high-risk environments are doing what’s needed to fulfill their responsibility to public health and keep everyone alive and healthy.”

This amendment preserves the legislative intent established by the Act’s 40 years of precedent, clarifying that it is not a violation of the act to take workplace measures intended to prevent the spread of deadly, communicable diseases like COVID-19.

The law explicitly reiterates federal protections of sincerely held religious objections.

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