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Noem signs executive order as calls for special session continue over vaccine mandates

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has issued an executive order cracking down on federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates that were handed down last month. It comes as calls continue for a special session over vaccine mandates in the South Dakota Legislature.

The order rebukes federal vaccines mandates by allowing federally-contracted state employees to make religious or medical exemptions from the federal vaccine mandate. State employees who wish to receive a medical exemption need a written statement from a physician. For a religious exemption, applicants must fill out a form that will be made available by the state Bureau of Human Resources.

“For months now, I have been very clear that I don’t believe the federal government or businesses should be mandating vaccines. And that we would challenge the federal government if they came out with language that was mandating vaccines to the states.” said Gov. Noem. “Our state has many contracts with the federal government, and President Biden is attempting to use those contracts to force state employees to be vaccinated against their will. My executive order will protect their rights to medical and religious exemptions under any federal vaccine mandates.”

The order however does not offer the same exceptions for South Dakota National Guard members, who must meet federal readiness responsibilities for deployment.

It comes a day after some South Dakota legislators called for a special session on vaccine mandates for private entities, such as businesses or schools. But those in opposition to the session and now the executive order are questioning the actions.

“There are safeguards in place for certain individuals within our communities right now. And the reason that there are mandates being made are for the public health and safety of all of us around, and we also have to respect that.” said Rep. Jamie Smith, (D)-Sioux Falls.

Gov. Noem has stated that she does not have the authority to dictate any direction for vaccine mandates on businesses or private entities.

Northern State University Professor of Government Jon Schaff said the debate over vaccine mandates in businesses or schools, whether imposed by a government or on their own, is also a push back against the federal vaccine mandates.

“And that itself of course is controversial. About whether the state can pose itself between an employer and a worker. Or whether we should just leave that up to the employer to decide what their own policies are going to be regarding the vaccination.” said Schaff.

Schaff said the struggle between federal and state governments is a reaction to different thoughts and opinions on the best way to move forward on vaccines, balancing safety and individual freedoms. He also said that the discussion on mandates is far from over.

“Through this controversy, we’re trying to figure out what’s the right balance of all these things. So I think it’s difficult as the President, the Governor, employers try to figure out what the best policy is.” said Schaff.

Gov. Noem is not the first in the nation to sign an executive order like this. Outside of South Dakota, governors from Alabama and Texas also signed orders against the federal mandate.

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