Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., on Thursday filed legislation to guarantee medical or religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines for employees of private companies implementing vaccine mandates.
Noem's bill also recognizes natural immunity, the governor's office said in making the announcement.
"The COVID vaccination should be a choice; and we should reject the efforts that we are seeing in other parts of the country to divide us into two classes: vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Noem said in a release.
"Unvaccinated Americans are still Americans. We live in a free country — free to make our own decisions. In South Dakota, we will protect the liberty of our people to make the best decisions for themselves and their families."
Noem's bill says that a medical exemption can be obtained from a South Dakota physician who signs a certificate attesting that the COVID-19 vaccination is not in the best medical interest of the employee.
A religious exemption can be claimed if the employee submits a signed statement to the employer stating they "dissent and object to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds, which includes moral or ethical beliefs or principles but not social, political, or economic philosophies or mere preference."
A natural immunity exemption could be claimed with proof of a positive antibody test within the past six months.
In late October, Noem issued an executive order allowing state employees to claim medical or religious exemptions in defiance of President Joe Biden's federal vaccine mandate.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 13 blocked Biden's COVID-19 vaccination-or-test mandate for large businesses.
On Friday, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide ruling Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Justice Department is appealing that decision.
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