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Conservative Caucus holds hearing on upcoming vaccine mandate

Teachers, school bus drivers, and health care workers were among the dozens of people who testified before a group of state legislators Wednesday, arguing they unfairly face the possibility of losing their jobs because state and federal mandates require them to get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.

Some said they’re willing to risk their jobs rather than get the shot.

“I may lose my job next week, but my choice and every parent’s choice for what we put in our bodies is more important than my job,” said Linda Machorro, a veteran elementary school teacher in the Danbury Public Schools.

Some people who appeared before the General Assembly’s Conservative Caucus, which organized the hearing, said they’ve been shunned at work and experienced discrimination because of their resistance to getting the shot.

Some questioned why vaccinated workers weren’t also required to get tested regularly while others complained about having to answer invasive questions about their medical histories and religious beliefs in order to obtain an exemption.

Ashley Madore, one of several school bus drivers in Bristol who attended the hearing, said people who kept working during the pandemic are now scoffed at by politicians and others because of their personal concerns about the vaccine and their reluctance to get tested weekly.

“Those of us who were once heroes are now nothing because we believe in the right to choice,” she said.

An executive order signed by the governor requires staff at childcare facilities and pre-K-12 schools statewide to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. Those who don’t get vaccinated due to certain exemptions will have to get tested weekly. State hospital and long-term care employees will not have the option of testing in lieu of vaccination.

“Every action Gov. Lamont has taken in response to the pandemic has been aimed at reducing the spread of the virus,” said Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Lamont.

Last month, President Joe Biden ordered all employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Also, he required workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated.

Wednesday’s hearing at the Legislative Office Building marked the first such in-person public event since last year. Most members of the Conservative Caucus, people who testified and many who sat inside the hearing room did not wear face masks. The executive director of the Office of Legislative Management issued a rule on Aug. 2 requiring vaccinated and unvaccinated people entering the complex to wear face coverings when in common areas.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, accused the legislators of “putting Capitol Police, members of the public, staff and elected officials at risk” and urged House Republican leaders to “take action against these elected officials who blatantly and purposefully broke our building’s public health policy.”

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, called Ritter’s statement “hyperbolic” and “inaccurate given the guidance legislators received from Capitol Police” on Wednesday.

“This manufactured controversy is the latest evidence of his party’s desire to conduct as much business as possible outside the public eye,” he said in a statement. “Make no mistake, Democrats want to keep the Capitol closed and continue the charade that virtual government is serving residents well.”

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Todd Schnitt

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