Police & Fire

Androscoggin commissioner introduces ‘health freedom’ proposal to ban vaccine mandates

By Christopher Burns, Bangor Daily News Staff

An Androscoggin commissioner unsuccessfully pushed a “health freedom” proposal to ban the county from requiring elected officials, staff and jail inmates to get COVID-19 vaccines.

The Lewiston Sun Journal reported that the commissioners on Wednesday voted 6 to 1 to kill the proposal. Only Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, who introduced it, supported the measure, saying it was needed to “support our freedom.”

That comes as Androscoggin County remains a virus hotspot even amid a general decline in cases across the state. The Lewiston-Auburn ranks No. 1 in the United States for the number of new daily cases per capita, according to The New York Times.

Lary’s proposal would have made it illegal to “incentivize, require, coerce, or force” county staff, elected and appointed officials, and jail inmates to get vaccines, screening tests, evaluations, treatments, chips, drugs, devices or surgeries, according to the Sun Journal.

It also would have barred the county from requiring proof of medical interventions, including so-called vaccine passports. That provision prompted County Administrator Larry Post to warn that the language would prohibit the county from requiring a doctor’s note for employees on medical leave.

Commissioners were largely skeptical about the need of Lary’s proposal, with Commissioner Noel Madore of Lewiston countering that there is no plan at the state or federal level to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Another commissioner, John Michael of Auburn, accused Lary of “looking for a fight where there is no fight,” according to the Sun Journal.

It wasn’t the first time Lary courted controversy over pandemic politics. Earlier this year, Lary sought to ban county employees, funds and equipment from being used to enforce a “pandemic order” and challenged the authority of Gov. Janet Mills, whom the Legislature granted emergency powers last March to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

After a weekslong controversy over the resolution, which saw the county sheriff prohibit staff from attending meetings unless mask wearing was enforced, the Maine attorney general telling commissioners to mask up and county residents threatening a recall election, the body rejected it 6 to 1.

While the Androscoggin County Commission opted against the anti-mask resolution, others have been passed in Paris, Steuben and Piscataquis County. Earlier this month, the New Gloucester Select Board tabled an anti-mask resolution that resembled word for word Lary’s.

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