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Mandate under protest
by Randi F. Marshall
May 5, 2022
As many vaccination requirements at arenas, entertainment venues, and other locations have been lifted, at least one public spot continues to require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result: the State Capitol and the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
And that’s drawing the ire of a group planning to head to Albany on May 16 for a round of rallies and meetings with lawmakers over a set of bills they’re fighting against.
The group? Those who oppose vaccine mandates.
“As far as I can tell, these are the only nonmedical buildings in the state of New York where you still have to have proof of vaccination,” said John Gilmore, who heads the Autism Action Network and the New York chapter of Children’s Health Defense. “What’s the point here? This is the people’s house. It seems really crazy.”
Gilmore, who lives in Long Beach and opposes vaccination mandates, said getting tested isn’t an appropriate option either because, he said, he thinks it can be expensive and unreliable. (Free COVID testing is available at locations across the state.)
“There’s no major institution in New York right now that is maintaining these passports and testing systems. Why is my Capitol?” said Wantagh resident Michael Kane, who founded a group called Teachers for Choice and was fired from his New York City teaching job because he wasn’t vaccinated. “Why is every other building in the state safe without this except for the focal center of power?”
Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of General Services, told The Point that the visitation rules for the Capitol and Legislative Office Building were developed “in consultation with” State Police, the Department of Health, and the Legislature.
“OGS and our partners in State government will continue to evaluate these restrictions and ongoing developments regarding COVID-19,” Groll said in a statement.
Michael Whyland, a state Assembly spokesman, noted that the testing option means that anyone can come into the buildings — whether or not they’re vaccinated.
“We want to make sure people are safe,” he said.
But Gilmore said he wondered whether there were ulterior motives afoot.
“Maybe it’s that they’ve made a calculus that there are certain people they don’t want to talk to,” Gilmore said.
Nonetheless, Gilmore said he expects thousands of people to head to Albany for the May 16 protest. And he’s hoping that if the protesters can’t go inside the buildings, lawmakers will come outside to meet with them. He noted that in January, during a similar rally in bad weather, more than 4,000 people showed up.
Sources said the bills Gilmore, Kane and their groups are protesting aren’t likely to move forward in this legislative session. The groups are opposing various pieces of legislation, including bills that would make the COVID-19 shot mandatory for K-12 grade students, eliminate the religious exemption for adults for work or school, and require health care providers to report adult vaccination records to the state Department of Health.
But Gilmore and Kane noted that things can change at the end of the legislative session.
“We’re going up there in case they forgot,” Kane said. “We just want to remind them and show our faces and say. ‘Hey, we didn’t go anywhere.’ We’re assuming nothing.”
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall