State Watch

Alabama AG says colleges can’t fine unvaccinated students

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Alabama’s attorney general says that colleges can’t financially penalize students for failing to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, including by charging them for testing that is made free for those who got their shots.

Earlier this year, Alabama banned “vaccine passports” or proof of vaccination as a requirement to enter public facilities or businesses. 

The legislation states that places such as schools “may not issue vaccine or immunization passports, vaccine or immunization passes, or any other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying the immunization status of an individual, or otherwise require the publication or sharing of immunization records or similar health information for an individual.”

In updated guidance issued on Tuesday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall discussed how the passport ban would apply to possible policies at educational institutions, including whether a school could charge students for COVID-19 testing.

Marshall analyzed whether the “burden of paying the fee” rose “to the level of constructively requiring proof of vaccination.”

“Yes. The school is refusing to provide services or allow admission unless the student either proves vaccination status or pays a fee of several hundred dollars. The policy would likely deter an ordinary person from withholding his or her vaccination status,” the state’s attorney general wrote.

Though Marshall does not name schools specifically, Birmingham-Southern College had already announced such a policy — charging students $500 for regular testing that would be reimbursed to students who are already vaccinated, The Associated Press reported.

Birmingham-Southern’s assistant vice president of communications, Amy Bickers Abeyta, has said that proof of vaccination is not required to go to classes and that the school is trying to incentivize students to get vaccinated, according to the AP.

Though Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said last month that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” the state has still established protections for those for do not get the vaccine — representing the awkward dance that politicians are having with constituents as unvaccinated pockets of the U.S. see a surge in COVID-19 cases amid the growing spread of the delta variant.

Only 35 percent of Alabama’s population is fully vaccinated, per data from Johns Hopkins University, while new COVID-19 cases are trending upwards in the tens of thousands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama had 103,455 new cases on Tuesday.

The Hill has reached out to Birmingham-Southern for further comment.

Tags Alabama Coronavirus coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 Delta variant Kay Ivey Steve Marshall Vaccine hesitancy vaccine passport

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