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State

NY Senate Republicans: End vaccine mandates, repeal bail reform

 Senate Republicans in snowy West Capitol Park Wednesday.
New York NOW
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Senate Republicans in snowy West Capitol Park Wednesday.

Republicans in the state legislature called for an end to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers on Wednesday, saying the indiscriminate spread of the Omicron variant has rendered the requirement moot.

Senate Republican Leader Robert Ortt said he’s not oblivious to the implications of the virus, but that the mandate hasn’t been effective in stopping the spread.

“The data does not back up the policies. I want to be clear, we’re not in the same space today, that we were in the spring of 2020,” Ortt said. “Our colleagues, many of them, will force that false narrative. They will say ‘if you don’t think mandates are right, well that’s because you’re for recklessness, lawlessness, you’re a COVID denier. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Hochul administration has defended the mandate, saying the relationship between transmission and the vaccine’s efficacy have been misconstrued.

Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said last week that, while breakthrough cases of the disease have been common, a primary purpose of the vaccine has been to prevent severe disease and death — not just infection.

“The vaccines that we have available were developed for the original variant, the one that came from Wuhan, China,” Bassett said. “The vaccine didn't protect as well against the Delta variant as it did against the original variant, and as we all know, the Omicron Variant is infecting people who have been fully vaccinated.”

Republicans also pushed back on Tuesday against the state’s vaccine mandate for teachers, who also have the option to test for the virus weekly. The exception is New York City, where there is no test-out option for teachers.

Sen. Andrew Lanza, the top Republican on the Codes Committee, said he’s seen no evidence to support the rule.

“The bureaucracy that is in place to protect and educate our students across the State of New York, does not know what it’s doing,” Lanza said.

Members of the minority conference also reacted to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $216 Billion state budget proposal.

Ortt, a vocal opponent of bail reform, said he wanted the measure to be addressed in either the budget address or the State of the State speech, but is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach with the anti-crime funding announced.

“There was $224 million to address gun violence. I’d really like to see what that entails. That’s a lot of money. How are you addressing that gun violence? Is that some massive gun buyback program? What is the plan there,” Ortt said. “All of this money, I feel like she’s sort of moving it around the edges without addressing the real meat of what’s going on.”

There is some investment in law enforcement through the $224 million allocation, but State Budget Director Robert Mujica said that’s not the primary focus.

“It's mostly for non-police resources. This is for trying to avoid the violence before it actually happens,” Mujica said.

That includes funding for interruption programs like SNUG, which involve one-on-one contact with at-risk youth. The state budget is due by the start of the fiscal year, which is on April 1.