By Katherine Sabido
Boston University Statehouse Program
BOSTON – South Shore Republicans oppose the state House of Representatives’ new requirement that members and staff who plan to return to the office be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The House was the final State House group to agree on a reopening plan.
State representatives approved the requirement Thursday in an overwhelming 131 to 28 vote, with only one House Republican joining the Democratic majority.
Senate President Karen Spilka has required all members and staff to be vaccinated by Oct. 15. Gov. Charlie Baker issued a similar order for executive branch employees with an Oct. 17 deadline.
Echoing remarks made by his Republican colleagues, Rep. Mathew Muratore, of Plymouth, said he voted to oppose the order because it lacked clarity and gave the group of legislators who developed it too much power.
“I’ve been vaccinated, and I have no problem showing my card,” said Muratore in a phone interview Friday. “For most of us, it’s not about that whatsoever. It’s about the power and the process that happened yesterday. … It’s all being decided by a small group of people and the representation is very sparse.”
The now-disbanded working group that developed the House’s reopening plan was composed of seven Democrats and one Republican, all of whom were appointed by Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano, of Quincy.
Rep. Bill Driscoll Jr., D-Milton, House chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, said the vaccine requirement was filed to bring the debate to the House floor because members knew there was disagreement about possible reopening strategies.
“It was really important for us to have this vote and to have the safety and confidence that’s afforded by vaccines,” said Driscoll in a phone interview Friday. “Vaccines work and they’re our best tool in terms of stopping the spread of COVID-19. I think the vast majority of people in my district and the commonwealth support employers who (implement vaccination mandates) for safety in the workplace.”
Muratore said the inclusion of educational materials in the proposed reopening plan would have probably garnered more Republican support, reasoning that educating people on the efficacy of the vaccine is the only way to beat the pandemic.
“We should be doing a lot of education with people,” said Muratore. “We shouldn’t be making this political, we should be making this about science and education … the importance of getting vaccinated.”
Muratore said Plymouth holds weekly COVID-19 town hall forums, where local officials and health experts give updates on town vaccination rates and educates residents about the vaccine.
House Democrats argued that if Republicans found so many issues with the order, they should have proposed amendments.
The order was filed Wednesday morning and House members had until the end of business hours to file amendments, which Driscoll said is a common timeline.
Democrats did file amendments. The House ultimately adopted one bulk amendment that created a new iteration of the Working Group on COVID-19 and declared a state of emergency in the House to allow members and staff to continue to work remotely if they don’t comply with the vaccination mandate, among other changes.
Exemptions to the rules will be available for those who have reasonable medical and religious conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.
The House’s reopening plan will be divided into phases, which will be defined by the new working group in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to focus on representatives and core staff first and then Phase 2 will (include) public hearings … most likely hybrids,” said Driscoll. “We’ll be continuing some remote components, but also (adding) the ability to, once again, deliver live testimony or participate in a hearing in person. And then, full capacity is the final stage that we envision when it’s safe enough to open up the doors again.”
This story originally appeared in the Patriot Ledger.