Arizona Corporation Commissioners (ACC) Jim O’Connor and Justin Olson want to hold a meeting to vote on whether utilities, known as Public Service Corporations (PSCs), can force their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. They sent a letter to their fellow commissioners on November 18 expressing their concerns.
O’Connor and Olson cite the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on November 12 putting a stay on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. They quoted the opinion where it said the mandate “raises constitutional concerns” and “grossly exceeds [its] statutory authority.”
Since “the decision to receive a COVID-19 vaccination is an ‘intensely personal decision’ that should be made ‘according to [one’s] own convictions’ — as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized — employees of PSCs should not be vaccinated to keep their jobs. This is especially true when the federal government is intimidating companies to develop, implement and enforce such mandatory vaccine policies,” they said in the letter.
However, the part of Biden’s mandate applying to federal contractors has not been put on hold, and O’Connor and Olson said it applies to public utilities since they “have legally enforceable agreements with the federal government, including military bases in Arizona.”
The pair concluded, “Ultimately, employees of PSCs should not have to decide between violating their convictions and keeping their job.”
O’Connor previously sent a video by Dr. Ryan Cole about the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine to management at the utilities, asking them to view it “before ‘encouraging’ another employee to submit to this experimental vaccine.” Cole is a board certified pathologist trained at the Mayo Clinic, and the CEO and medical director of Cole Diagnostics.
O’Connor told The Arizona Republic, “If people are willing to individually choose to get the shot, God bless them. For those who aren’t, I don’t want people to lose a job, lose income.” He added, “I’m also aware through other information that many people who have taken the shot, many thousands of people here in the U.S. are deceased.”
If the ACC passes a rule implementing the ban on public utility mandates, the Arizona Constitution provides in Article 15, Section 16 that violations of the ACC’s rules can result in fines of up to $5,000. Article 15, Section 19 gives the ACC authority to enforce its own rules. Once passed, it would set the stage for a legal clash of federalism between the federal government’s authority versus Arizona’s.
The ACC has five commissioners, and one of the others is Lea Márquez Peterson, who leans to the right and ran for the office as a team with O’Connor, so there is a good chance the rule will pass.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the Biden administration over the vaccine mandates after they went into effect, including their applicability to federal contractors. He also called on Gov. Doug Ducey to take three steps to stop the mandates.
Over 10 states sued the Biden administration over the mandate for federal contractors. Twelve states currently ban businesses from implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. However, 22 states have laws mandating the vaccine for certain types of people, such as healthcare employees and government workers, including teachers.
Last December, Biden said the COVID-19 vaccine should not be mandatory. He also said masks should not be mandated. “No, I don’t think it should be mandatory. I wouldn’t demand it be mandatory,” Biden said of vaccines at a press conference in Delaware.
The ACC’s next meeting, which is open to the public, is on December 15 and 16.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Justin Olson” by Arizona Commission Corporation and photo “Jim O’Connor” by Jim O’Connor.