U.S. Rep. Hill backs Arkansas' lawsuit over new federal vaccination work rule

11 states petition for court review

In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge speaks to reporters at a news conference in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Arkansas joined an 11-state coalition in filing a legal challenge Friday against a federal government rule that will require workers at large companies to get the coronavirus vaccine by early next year or undergo weekly testing.

Employees at companies of 100 or more workers will be required to get the coronavirus vaccine by Jan. 4 or receive weekly testing for the virus under the rule rolled out by the Biden administration this week.

Arkansas and the 10 other states filed a petition for review in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the federal court to stay the rule pending judicial review. The filing sets up a high-profile legal challenge to a wide-ranging vaccine requirement that's estimated to cover an estimated 84 million workers.

The legal action was anticipated after the rule sparked objections from state-level Republicans nationwide, many of whom called the vaccine requirement an overreach from the government.

The rule, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also directs larger employers to give their workers paid time off to get the vaccine.

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Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge characterized the rule as unconstitutional.

"I will continue to be the last line of defense against Biden's liberal and reckless overreaching federal government," she said in a Friday statement. "Americans deserve more than having to decide between getting the shot or losing a job."

Other Arkansas Republicans have been vocal about their disapproval too.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., issued a statement Thursday saying he's opposed to the OSHA rule and a separate requirement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The CMS rule requires vaccination for health care workers at facilities that take part in Medicaid and Medicare.

"Employers already have a key responsibility to offer a safe and productive workplace," Hill said in the statement. "They should have maximum flexibility in working with their employees to achieve successful strategies to cope with COVID 19."

"I'm strongly opposed to President Biden's egregious federal overreach mandating vaccines," he remarked in the statement. On social media, the congressman said he supports litigation from Arkansas "to fight Biden's overreach into the decisions of businesses [and] workers."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., weighed in with a statement saying, "this isn't about health and safety; it's about government control."

"This move is a complete federal overreach and likely unconstitutional," he said in the statement.

Biden defended his administration's efforts and pushed back against arguments that vaccination requirements would lead to labor shortages.

"Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support," he said in a statement.

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In the legal filing, the coalition argues that states hold the power over compulsory vaccination policies. They say OSHA does not have the statutory authority to issue the rule, arguing it forced the requirement into statutes on workplace safety. The petition panned the requirement as "unconstitutional, unlawful, and unwise."

Arkansas joined Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska, Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, New Hampshire and Wyoming in signing on to the petition. Private companies also signed on to the legal challenge.

Another separate state coalition that includes Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah filed a petition for review in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement Thursday that coronavirus cases are still at dangerous levels and companies know the upsides to having vaccinated employees.

"We expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect," he said in the statement.