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Albuquerque leaders have never required city government workers to get COVID-19 vaccines and, on Monday, the City Council voted to keep it that way.
Despite some criticism that it was an unnecessary step or even a potentially problematic limitation, the Council passed legislation that bars the city from mandating that employees get the shot and from penalizing those who do not.
Dan Lewis, the bill’s sponsor, said the city could not control what the federal or state governments might ultimately require, but that the legislation would demonstrate that the local government itself would not impose a vaccine standard.
“Our policy will not be to mandate vaccines on our city employees and would give them the peace of mind (that) they wouldn’t have to make a decision between taking a vaccine they may not want or need and their jobs,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ proposal passed 5-4, with Councilors Brook Bassan, Renee Grout, Trudy Jones and Louie Sanchez in support.
But Councilor Pat Davis, who joined Isaac Benton, Tammy Fiebelkorn and Klarissa Peña in opposition, said the city should not cede its ability to regulate its workforce because the public relies heavily on services and having “the staff available to do them.”
“I think the government has a really important job; when we sign up for these things, we sign up to do what needs to be done,” he said.
Mayor Tim Keller flirted with a vaccine policy earlier this year, announcing in January his administration would roll out a vaccine-or-test requirement to comply with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. But he quickly backtracked after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked those OSHA rules. Though the mayor said he might use his own authority to impose a requirement at the local level, he never has.
Benton had separately introduced legislation that would have required only the city’s public safety employees to submit proof of vaccination or negative test results but ultimately withdrew it, saying Monday he recognized it did not have sufficient support.
ALSO: It turns out that Mayor Keller had the last word on the extent of executive power during a public health emergency.
Earlier this month, the City Council passed legislation that curtailed mayoral command during a public health crisis – revoking the mayor’s existing authority to order places of mass assembly to close, cancel city events and reallocate up to $1 million within the city’s budget.
The Council had instead left the mayor with the ability to merely make “advisories and recommendations.”
But Keller vetoed that legislation last week, and the Council lacked the votes necessary to override the veto.
Keller argued in his veto message that the public health emergency powers – which the Council itself added to city ordinance early in the COVID-19 pandemic – allowed his administration to take “innumerable actions … to protect the residents and employees of the City.” He cited emergency leases with the hotels that the city used to quarantine first responders exposed to the virus and to shelter people who are homeless, the expeditious purchase of personal protective equipment, and more.
“There is ample evidence that civil emergency powers were effective and are needed,” he wrote.
Overriding a mayoral veto takes six votes, but only five councilors supported the override during Monday’s meeting: Bassan, Grout, Jones, Lewis and Sanchez.