Bills To Watch: Restoring religious exemptions for healthcare workers (LD 172)


LD 172, “An Act to Allow Health Care Workers to Return to Work by Reinstating Exemptions from Immunization Requirements,” sponsored by Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland) would reverse a 2019 law which repealed religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccination requirements for healthcare workers in Maine.

The section of law addressed in the bill determines the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) scope of authority, including adoption of rules, powers in a public health emergency, and required immunizations.

Public Law 2019 chapter 154, via LD 798 in the 129th Legislature and sustained by the failure of a People’s Veto effort in March 2020, in part removed a paragraph (22 MRSA §802 sub-§4-B, ¶B) which provided for exemptions which stem from an individual’s “sincere religious or philosophical belief.” LD 172 would reinstate these exemptions specifically for workers in healthcare settings.

This bill would restore the jobs of nurses, aides, and other administrative workers who were fired after failing to comply with the Mills administration’s mandate that employees of these healthcare systems take the new injections for COVID-19 in fall 2021.

Just after Gov. Mills’ mandate went into effect, Central Maine Medical Center announced that it would be cutting back services, even closing entire units. These issues persist today. Maine Health Care Association, a group which represents more than 200 long term care facilities, published a survey of its membership in Spring 2022 which noted that about 41% are “very concerned” about their workforce, and 44% report being at “crisis level” staffing.

As health care systems across Maine continue to complain of persistent staffing shortages, Rep. Boyer’s bill could help increase access to care and provide some downward pressure on health care costs in Maine (which are already $1,000 more than the national average) by increasing the supply of available providers.

The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee on January 17 and has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.