Louisiana House votes to ban ‘vaccine passports’ that don’t exist yet

Colleague points out proposal ‘doesn’t actually do anything’

By: - March 25, 2022 5:17 pm
Louisiana House votes to ban ‘vaccine passports’ that don’t exist yet

A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington D.C. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

Louisiana House lawmakers approved a bill that would create a “preemptive” law to try to prohibit so-called “vaccine passports,” including vaccination stamps on drivers’ licenses, and to prohibit the issuance of a driver’s license based on one’s immunization status. The bill’s author said the state would only ever do those things if the Legislature first created laws to require them and admitted her bill would not actually prevent the passage of any such laws in the future.  

House Bill 232, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, passed the House in a 58-23 vote Thursday and heads to the Senate for consideration. It would prohibit the state Office of Motor Vehicles from including vaccination verification or immunity status on any issued driver’s license or state ID card and from using such records for the issuance, renewal or revocation of any driver’s license or state ID.

The bill is identical to a bill that Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed last year, writing that the legislation creates a “false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and incredibly effective.” 

Edmonston is a vocal supporter of anti-vaccine causes. So far, five of the eight bills she has authored for the 2022 regular session are proposals that in various ways prohibit the administration of vaccines or efforts to verify immunization or prohibit what some perceive as “discrimination” against the unvaccinated. 

“Rep. Edmonston, what would it take for a vaccine status to get on your driver’s license?” Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, asked during floor debate.

Edmonston admitted that the Legislature would have to first pass a new law requiring the state to add vaccination status to drivers’ licenses. She said her bill is merely a “preemptive and proactive” prohibition against what she claimed was a vaccine passport trend that has swept the country, though Edmonston never identified any state that has created such a law.  

Stefanski pointed out the bill wouldn’t actually prevent the passage of a law in Louisiana allowing vaccine passports on drivers’ licenses. 

“Let’s say we came back next year and allowed you to put the vaccine on, then your bill would do nothing?” Stefanski said.

Edmonston admitted Stefanski was correct but asked him if he had “looked around the country to see the vaccine passports.”

“But it doesn’t actually do anything?” Stefanski asked again.

Edmonston refused to admit her bill does nothing, saying it would, at least for now, stop the Office of Motor Vehicles from placing vaccine passports on licenses. 

“But the (OMV) can’t do that,” Stefanski told Edmonston. “I don’t disagree with what you’re doing. I just don’t think the legislation may be necessary.”

Stefanski ultimately voted in favor of the bill alongside 54 of his Republican colleagues, two Democrats — Reps. Mack Cormier of Belle Chasse and Francis Thompson of Delhi — and independent Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa.

While no state has passed a law requiring one’s vaccination status on a driver’s license or as a prerequisite to receive a driver’s license, the LA Wallet digital driver’s license app gives users the option to add their COVID-19 vaccination status if they so choose. 

At the height of the floor debate, Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, stood up with his driver’s license in hand and began reading off the various identifiers.

“Rep. Edmonston, I’m looking at my driver’s license, and it’s got a whole lot of information on it,” Carter said. “It’s got my sex, height, weight, eyes, audit number, parish that I live in — that’s just on the front — date of birth, those kind of things.”

He flipped his license over and began reading from the backside, noting his organ donor and living will statuses, his blood type and his corrective lens restriction. Much of the information, including Social Security number, blood type, organ donor and living will, is optional to include on a Louisiana driver’s license. 

“Why would it be that much more intrusive if I wanted to put on here that I was immunized…if I so requested it?” Carter said. 

Carter said someone might want the convenience of having their vaccination status on their driver’s license. Edmonston said she doesn’t see it that way and told Carter he already has the option of putting it on his LA Wallet app. 

“But what if I prefer to put it on my driver’s license?” Carter said. “Isn’t (your bill) then taking a liberty away from me?” … “You’re trying to take the privilege of saying I’m immunized away from me by saying I can’t put it on my driver’s license.” 

Echoing Carter’s argument, Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia, pointed out that the LA Wallet digital license is accepted only by certain agencies and merchants in Louisiana that choose to accept it, but many still within and outside the state do not recognize it. Particularly, Bryant said, people cannot use the app in place of a physical license to board an airplane or pass through U.S. Customs. 

The option to add vaccination status to one’s driver’s license would be a great convenience for those who travel by air, which currently requires proof of vaccination, Bryant said, telling Edmonston he would prefer if her legislation offered people the choice rather than prohibit it with an outright ban. 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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