A Democrat in Rhode Island has proposed a new bill that would tax residents who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 double on state income taxes.
The legislation was introduced by progressive state Senator Samuel W. Bell, who cited “a crisis with the pandemic” to justify the proposed policy. The bill states that every state resident, starting at age 16, needs to be vaccinated or face financial penalties.
“Every person of at least sixteen (16) years of age who is eligible for immunization against COVID-19 and who resides in the State of Rhode Island, works in the State of Rhode Island, or pays personal income taxes to the State of Rhode Island pursuant to chapter 30 of title 44 shall be required to be immunized against COVID-19,” the bill says.
The senator also referenced his young son’s lung disease in explaining why he introduced the bill.
“Thousands of Rhode Islanders have died. I’ve had really painful calls from constituents who can’t go to the store because they’re immuno-compromised, who have lost loved ones to this pandemic, who are really ill and not fully recovered, suffering long-term effects,” Bell said.
The measure is opposed by Senate Republican minority whip Jessica de la Cruz of North Smithfield. She called the bill an overreach of power.
“I have not, nor will I ever support, legislation that coerces Rhode Islanders into making medical decisions or face steep financial damages,” she stated. “I hear my constituents and others around the state loud and clear – this is dangerous legislation and sends the message that our government doesn’t trust you to make the right choice for you and your family. This is an unconscionable overreach of legislative powers.”
In addition to a penalty when filing income taxes, the proposal mandates Rhode Island residents who choose not to get vaccinated pay a fine of up to $50 per month and requires that residents take “all eligible doses within a multiple dose immunization series.”
According to one state vacation tracker, more than 95% of Rhode Island residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while another 82% are “fully vaccinated.”
In response to the proposal, Bell said he had been sent crude messages from people “divorced from the realities of science” upset with him over the legislation.
Another supporter of the bill, Democratic state Senator Tiara Mack, blamed a “divisive force” for the pushback she has received for the bill. Mack stated, “It is a small percentage of Rhode Islanders riled up by a very divisive force.”
Business owners would also be required to enforce vaccination unless an employee only worked remotely or face a penalty of $5,000 a month.
“All employers must require proof of compliance with this chapter for any employee employed in in-person work within the State of Rhode Island,” the legislation states.