RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Four Republican representatives from the Piedmont Triad have filed a bill in the North Carolina House that would forbid the state from establishing or enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

District 70 Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Trinity) along with District 59 Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, and Reps Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) from District 75 and Neal Jackson (R-Robbins), filed House Bill 98, the “Medical Freedom Act,” which in great detail prohibits “discrimination against persons based on refusal of COVID-19 vaccination.”

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitset)
State Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Trinity) (NCGA)

The bill specifies state agencies, local governments and political subdivisions of the state, and it requires compliance by public schools, state and local public health agencies and local governments. It prohibits schools from forcing faculty and staff to be vaccinated.

It also prohibits other health requirements, such as masks adopted by public schools or in government facilities, and it specifies that if a parent were to sue a public school, there would be an expectation of recovering attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Robbins)
State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem)

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, North Carolina has had about 3.44 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19, and there have been 29,279 deaths as of Feb. 8.

Biggs said in an email response to WGHP that he was “proud” to propose “legislation to protect North Carolinians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and protect parents’ rights to make healthcare decisions for students.

“This bill will prohibit any state and local government agency or political subdivision of the state from issuing COVID-19 requirements or requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination records of any person. This will prevent state and local government from promulgating vaccine requirements on private citizens and also on public employees.”

Hardister issued a statement that cited the expedited production of the COVID-19 vaccines that gave him pause about mandates.

“It is not appropriate for the government to force people to take a vaccine that is novel with no long-term studies available,” Hardister said. “Part of the concern is the fact that new health reports are indicating that there may be side effects related to the COVID vaccines.

“This underscores the fact that it will take time to learn about potential long-term effects of the COVID vaccines, and as such, it is not appropriate for the government to issue mandates on our citizens.”

Nearly 7.1 million doses of vaccine had been distributed across North Carolina as of last week. More than 3 out of 4 of adults 18 and older had received at least one shot, and nearly that many (74%) had completed at least the first series of shots. About 63% had received one booster, but only 22% had received the updated booster.

Other immunizations

House Bill 98 does specifically reinforce the existing immunization requirements of students for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and two types of measles, which have been in place for decades. Parents are required to provide proof of those immunizations when registering students.

The bill though prohibits a school – K-12 through college – from requiring proof of vaccine against the novel coronavirus, which caused COVID-19 and its variations, for enrollment or employment.

“Other vaccines, such as tetanus and polio, are long-standing with extensive health research in place,” Hardister said. “These vaccines are also clinically proven to be adept at preventing infections, and there is an extensive amount of peer-reviewed studies related to these vaccines dating back decades.

“The COVID vaccines, on the other hand, are very new, and we have not yet had the time to study the long-term effects of these vaccines. In my opinion, taking a COVID vaccine should be a personal decision, not a mandate-driven activity.”

Subject to veto?

The bill, which has 20 co-sponsors, including at least three more Republicans from the Triad, passed its first reading on Tuesday and was sent to the House Committee on Health. After that, it would pass to the Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee, which is the final step before a floor vote.

It’s unclear if there is a companion Senate bill, but Hardister, given his seniority, typically has a good feel for how the legislation will be received in the Senate.

“I’m not sure if the Senate is working on a similar bill, but it certainly is possible,” Hardister said in response to a text message from WGHP. “I am cautiously optimistic that we can move it forward.”

It’s also unclear whether Gov. Roy Cooper would veto the bill. It was through his executive orders that most mandates emerged during 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic took root. He called for mask mandates to be scaled back last February.

Most medical facilities and some businesses have continued to require masking. The courts have ruled some vaccine mandates to be unconstitutional.

It would also prohibit government agencies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination records of any person and prohibit public schools from issuing vaccine mandates on students, faculty or staff.