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More reps fight ‘vaccine passport’

Days after a group of state senators took preemptive aim at so-called vaccine passports, another state lawmaker is pushing a sweeping ban on private businesses requiring immunizations.

The passports — which so far exist in only a few places around the world — would serve as digital proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Some businesses, including international cruise lines and airlines, have taken steps toward requiring vaccine passports.

Conservative lawmakers across the country, however, have raised alarms about the system, suggesting governments will use them to control private businesses and people’s lives.

Pennsylvania state officials haven’t expressed interest in passports; a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “in Pennsylvania we are not advocating for this at this time.”

That hasn’t stopped a slate of GOP lawmakers from proposing advance bans on the practice. This week, state Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, circulated a memo to colleagues soliciting support for a total ban on vaccine passports, including by private businesses.

“As talk of ‘vaccine passports’ is becoming more and more common, my legislation will take the important step of ensuring that citizens cannot be discriminated against by their government or businesses operating within the state based on whether or not they have been vaccinated,” Keefer wrote.

An attached piece of sample legislation would ban a range of possible pandemic practices: from governments limiting religious service attendance to sports teams and music concerts requiring proof of vaccination. Businesses that deny service to unvaccinated people could face license suspensions up to a year under the proposal, which has not yet been formally submitted as a bill.

The proposal comes less than two weeks after three state senators — Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford — circulated their own memo suggesting a passport ban. While the senators didn’t go into detail on their plan, they said: “Requiring a vaccine passport for Pennsylvanians to live their lives day-to-day represents an extreme government intrusion into people’s personal lives.”

As Democratic leaders in many states, including Pennsylvania, remain hesitant to endorse vaccine passports, private businesses that do so have faced opposition from GOP officials. Texas banned the practice this week, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has openly clashed with cruise lines that said they will accept only vaccinated passengers.

Toomey questions Afghan plan

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., expressed concerns this week after news broke of President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Biden officially announced the plan Wednesday, noting that the last few thousand U.S. troops will be set to leave the country by Sept. 11 — nearly 20 years after the terrorist attacks on the U.S.

“It is time to end the forever war,” Biden said.

News of the plan circulated a day earlier, prompting opposition and concerns from Republican lawmakers. Multiple presidents, including President Donald Trump, have discussed withdrawal or a drawdown in troop numbers, but U.S. forces have so far remained.

“I’m concerned that we’re pulling out at a time when the Afghan government and the Afghan army may not be able to hold the country,” Toomey told Bloomberg TV. “And I’ve been worried about this for some time.”

Asked whether the war — the longest in U.S. history — can be counted as a success, Toomey didn’t give a firm answer.

“You know, it’s an important question. And it starts with how you define success,” he said, adding: “Clearly, it’s been very costly in human life, in American life, it’s been costly financially.”

Online games

step closer to law

A bill that would allow clubs and organizations to hold small games of chance online is set for a state Senate committee after it easily passed the House this month.

HB 290 would let eligible groups run raffles and drawings online at least until May 2022, or longer if the COVID-19 emergency continues beyond that time. A change in the law would help community groups raise funds with in-person events closed during the pandemic, sponsor Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, said when he first proposed the bill in December.

The bill — co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Owlett, R-Tioga, Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Green, Joshua Kail, R-Washington, and Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Clearfield, among others — passed the House on April 7 in a 193-8 vote.

Ryan Brown comments on statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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