Lawsuit targets expanded NM vaccine mandates – Albuquerque Journal

Lawsuit targets expanded NM vaccine mandates

Protesters against COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate Friday near the state Capitol in Santa Fe. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Two women have filed a lawsuit challenging COVID-19 vaccine requirements in a New Mexico public health order issued this week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, argues the vaccine mandate for certain workers – including health care employees – and people attending the New Mexico State Fair violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and seeks to bar state officials from enforcing it.

However, similar lawsuits filed in other states have been largely unsuccessful, including a court challenge filed by more than 100 workers at a Houston hospital against their employer that was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge.

One of the plaintiffs in the New Mexico lawsuit is Talisha Valdez, a Union County resident who is the mother of two children who entered to show their animals at the State Fair next month but could be barred from participating due to a requirement that anyone who’s eligible must provide proof of vaccination before entering the fairgrounds.

The other plaintiff is Jennifer Blackford, a Bernalillo County resident who works as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which runs the hospital and eight others around the state, announced this week it would require COVID-19 vaccinations for its entire workforce totaling more than 13,000 people – with a first dose required by Aug. 27.

That came a day after acting state Health Secretary David Scrase issued a new public health order that requires vaccination for people working in “high-risk” settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and state prisons.

It applies to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others, but allows for exemptions on medical and religious grounds. Employees who refuse to get vaccinated face the possibility of losing their jobs.

Statewide, more than 75% of New Mexicans age 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and several health care organizations were quick to announce support of the vaccination mandate.

However, some health care workers have criticized it and a group of 150 people protested the mandate in front of the Roundhouse on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the Lujan Grisham administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been upheld as legal in the face of numerous court challenges, a fact the Democratic governor’s spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett referenced in a Friday statement.

“As you know, we don’t comment on pending litigation – but I will note that the state’s ability to protect the health and safety of the public by implementing public health policies has been upheld again and again in the courts,” Sackett said.

Other pandemic-related lawsuits filed against the governor targeted a temporary ban on indoor restaurant dining, the state’s refusal to greatly reduce prison populations and business losses caused by mandatory closures and capacity restrictions.

The most recent lawsuit was filed by Albuquerque attorney Blair Dunn, who has also been involved in some of the previous pandemic-related litigation.

In the lawsuit, he described Lujan Grisham as a “tyrannical governor” and said the vaccine mandates represent the most egregious attack on American liberty since the use of internment camps to hold citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

In a Friday interview, Dunn said he’s not “someone who denies that COVID-19 is a problem” but expressed concern about the scope and implications of the public health order.

He also said the vaccine mandates could violate both employees’ constitutional contract rights and their right to bodily integrity.

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