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Wisconsin GOP-led Assembly OKs vaccine passport ban, immunity waiver

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FILE - In this April 7, 2020 photo provided by Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Vos is shown working at the polls in Burlington, Wis. (Photo courtesy of Robin Vos via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Assembly approved a pair of bills Tuesday that would require employers to count a prior COVID-19 infection as an alternative to vaccination and testing and prohibit government agencies from issuing vaccine passports.

Both measures face a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The governor last year vetoed a GOP bill that would have barred public health officials from requiring people get vaccinated.

The first bill would require employers to accept documentation of natural immunity to COVID-19 in lieu of any vaccination or testing requirement. Republicans backers maintain natural immunity is at least as effective as being vaccinated. Similar bills passed in Florida and Arkansas last year.

A number of Wisconsin medical groups, including the Wisconsin Medical Society, oppose the measure, arguing vaccination is the best way to protect against COVID-19 and it’s not clear how long natural immunity lasts. Data from the state health department shows unvaccinated people are hospitalized at a rate nearly 11 times higher than fully vaccinated people. No groups have registered in support of the proposal.

“I’m mystified by this bill, really,” Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck said. “Our response to the pandemic must be rooted in science. It must be rooted in medical evidence. This bill is based on conjecture. It’s based on magical thinking.”

Republicans argued that multiple studies show natural immunity is a valid way to stop COVID-19. Rep. Rachel-Cabral-Guevara said the way out of the pandemic is establishing two lines of people. One line would get vaccinated, the other line would be given COVID-19 so they could develop natural immunity.

“Natural immunity is a real thing.,” Rep. Shae Sortwell said. “It’s not voodoo.”

The bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, Rep. Cody Horlacher, said employers can’t afford to fire people if they don’t want to get a shot given the state’s labor shortage.

The chamber ultimately passed the bill 59-34.

The other bill would bar government agencies from requiring people to show vaccination cards to obtain services. Republicans say they proposed the measure because they’re worried that President Joe Biden’s administration may mandate such passports.

The Assembly passed that bill on a voice vote with no debate.

Both bills now head to the Senate. Approval in that chamber would send the bills on to Evers.

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