MORGANTOWN – State Sen. Randy Smith has asked Gov. Jim Justice to call a special session of the Legislature in order to pass a bill to prohibit a statewide vaccine mandate.
Smith, R-Tucker, sent the letter on Friday, with a copy to Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.
Smith didn’t specify the reason for his request in the letter. He posted a copy of it on Instagram on Tuesday and wrote in the caption, “The purpose of this letter was to request the governor call us into session so we can protect the freedoms of the citizens of West Virginia. Hopefully the governor will put as much effort into fighting for our freedoms as what he does to hand out taxpayer dollars.”
In the letter, Smith cited Article 6 Section 19 of the state Constitution, which says, “The governor may convene the Legislature by proclamation whenever, in his opinion, the public safety or welfare shall require it. It shall be his duty to convene it, on application in writing, of three fifths of the members elected to each house.”
The Dominion Post spoke to Smith on Tuesday about his request.
“I’ve been just overwhelmed, a lot of us have, with these vaccine mandates for the health care workers,” he said.
He was referencing vaccine mandates issued Aug. 23 by WVU Medicine, Mon Health and health care systems and providers across the state following a West Virginia Hospital Association announcement supporting mandatory vaccines for all hospital and health system employees. WVHA’s statement came on the heels of the FDA’s announcement of full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and up.
Smith said, “I’m not against the vaccine. I encourage people to get the vaccine if that’s what they want. But I just feel that with the stress our health care workers are already under, and we have a huge shortage of health care workers now, and we’re going to do this, it’s going to cause some more of them to leave. I just honestly believe it will cause a bigger health care crisis by doing this.”
Smith said he’s received emails and Facebook messages and phone calls from health care workers totally against it. Most of them are younger; several were nursing students who said they’re dropping out of school because they don’t want a vaccination.
“They say there’s not enough information for the vaccine,” he said, since it just got under way at the beginning of the year. “They just don’t trust it until it’s been studied and proven.”
The kind of bill he has in mind, he said, wouldn’t be directed at any mask mandates. Masks are something you put on and take off and employers have the right to dictate dress and protective gear.
“The vaccine is a whole different story,” he said. “You’re requiring someone to have something injected into their body. … People should have the personal freedom to decide whether something is injected into their body or not.”
Smith said he’s had no response from Justice. Senators have had conference calls that included this topic. “There seems to be we don’t have enough support in the Senate to call ourselves into session.”
There may be 15 or 16 GOP senators who favor it, he estimates, but there’s been no formal poll.
Blair’s office pointed out that it would require the consent of 60 delegates and 21 senators for the Legislature to call itself into session.
That hasn’t happened in recent memory. They came close last summer, when enough delegates of both parties favored one to take the appropriation of CARES Act money out of Justice’s hands, but not enough senators got behind it.
Blair’s office said Tuesday, “The president is aware of Sen. Smith’s letter, and that other members of the Legislature also are petitioning to call the body back into a special session. As of now, there is no formal plan to move forward on that, but discussions are ongoing.”
Justice talked about it during his Monday COVID briefing.
“If they want to call themselves in they can surely do that and there’s nothing I can do to stop it,” he said. For his part, he’s been avoiding any new mandates in order to avoid provoking division . The Legislature should be encouraging people to get vaccinated, he said.
Asked if he would veto a bill prohibiting vaccine mandates, since that would tie his hands, he said it was premature to say how he would feel. “I think the governor needs to be the governor. … I stand by what I have done. I stand by what the people feel. … I think I’m pushing the right buttons and I think I’m riding the razor blade as best as I can possibly do it right now.”