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Biden administration drops vaccine-or-test workplace rule

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Tuesday it will withdraw an emergency mandate that would have required employees at large businesses to get the COVID-19 vaccine or test regularly for the virus.

The decision from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will take effect Wednesday, follows a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month that blocked the rule from taking effect.

The Biden administration first announced last year that it would try to curb the rise in coronavirus infections by implementing stricter standards on workplaces.

The OSHA emergency mandate was one of several workplace mandates and would have required businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers had received the COVID-19 vaccine or were tested regularly and wore a mask during work hours.

Fines for violating the mandate could have ranged from a few thousand dollars for a first offense to as much as $136,000 for violations determined to be “willful.”

Republican attorneys general from 27 states challenged the OSHA requirement, arguing that Congress didn’t give the agency the authority to require vaccinations.

The states challenging the workplace mandate included Ohio, Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Louisiana.

A majority of the Supreme Court sided with that argument earlier this month, with Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito writing that “The answer is clear: Under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA.”

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The court’s three liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented, saying COVID-19 “is a menace in work settings” and that OSHA’s emergency temporary standard falls “within the core of the agency’s mission: to ‘protect employees’ from ‘grave danger’ that comes from ‘new hazards’ or exposure to harmful agents.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement following the ruling that he would continue advocating for businesses and states to implement COVID-19 safety standards.

“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” he said.

OSHA said Tuesday that while it will withdraw the emergency temporary standard, it will continue “prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard.”

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White House

President Joe Biden defends the importance of vaccine mandates at an event in an unfinished data center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, on Oct. 7, 2021.