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Portland's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public workers might exempt police officers: reports

Written by on September 9, 2021

Portland might exempt police officers from a recently announced plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for some public workers, according to reports.

The planned mandate, which was initially leaked to local media, faced immediate backlash from unions and public workers. 

The city attorney’s office advised staff on Tuesday that the order requiring vaccines among police may now be legally dubious due to new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported. 

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Oregon law restricts local municipalities from issuing mandates for firefighters or police officers unless there is a federal or state law in place that requires it. The city believed that Gov. Kate Brown’s Aug. 19 requirement to mandate vaccinations for the state’s health care workers covered police officers, who receive some medical training. 

Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown told OPB that new guidance about the governor’s mandate, issued Friday, said police officers were likely exempted from the state’s mandate as providing medical care was “likely not a fundamental part of their job.” 

“There is no regulation requiring vaccination for police officers, and without this, the City cannot require police be vaccinated,” Brown wrote in an email.

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The city attorney’s office did not respond to a Fox News request for comment.

The new stance on a vaccine mandate for police officers follows stiff opposition from police unions: The union’s lead attorney had argued that officers were “so deeply” opposed to the mandate that they would instead leave the force. 

The city’s initial plan leaked on Aug. 30 in an email forwarded to news outlets, in which officials stated that public employees had until Oct. 18 to fully vaccinate or face terminations. The plan also included a Sept. 10 deadline to show proof of vaccination, proof that they are in the process of getting vaccinated or applying for exemptions. 

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Officials apologized for the plan leaking instead of informing employees directly ahead of time, KGW reported. 

“First, we want to acknowledge that a draft of this message was published today by a local media outlet,” an email to city workers read. “We apologize and regret that some of you may have heard important news from the media rather than hearing it directly from us. We are committed to sharing announcements with City employees in a timely, transparent and empathetic way.”

“We are confident that this is the right decision for our workplace and our city,” the email continued. “It supports both Oregon’s health care workers and people who need to access medical care for non-COVID reasons.” 

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However, the plan faced immediate backlash, with employee unions demanding the right to negotiate over the city’s mandate, Oregon Live reported. 

The city has not publicly announced a change to the policy. 

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