GOP governors slam COVID boundaries while setting policy agendas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – As the omicron variant rages on and fills hospital beds across the country, Republican governors are emphasizing their opposition to the restrictions that have marked the COVID-19 pandemic even as they seek to move beyond it and to define their agendas for the year.

The state of the state addresses that governors deliver to kick off their states’ legislative sessions comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach their highest levels since the pandemic began in 2020 and surges in infections apparently disrupt all aspects of life, from schools to air travel.

Republican governors are using the speeches to protest the Biden administration’s response and to tout their opposition to mandates and lockdowns they say have not worked to stem the virus.

“These unprecedented policies have been as ineffective as they are destructive,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is considering a possible run for president in 2024, as he searched for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert in infectious diseases. “They are based more on a blind adherence to Faucian pronouncements than they are on constitutional traditions.”

Another potential GOP presidential candidate in 2024, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has pledged to push for legislation she says would protect medical or religious exemptions from vaccine requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s rule requiring workers in big businesses to get vaccinated or tested, but upheld a similar requirement for most healthcare workers.

“Unvaccinated Americans are still Americans,” Noem said.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey complained about “the COVID-era posturing and politics of some school board bureaucrats.”

“There’s been too much focus on masks and not enough on math,” Ducey said.

The GOP attacks on virus restrictions come as governors of both parties have shown little appetite for widespread public orders, school closings or business shutdowns. But Democratic governors are highlighting the omicron threat as they seek an infusion of public funds to deal with the spike in cases.

In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked the Legislature for $2.7 billion to expand testing and increase hospital staff as the state faces a surge of new patients. Things are so urgent, Newsom said, that he wants lawmakers to give him permission to spend $1.4 billion of that money immediately instead of waiting for the new fiscal year to begin on July 1.

“Where are we? Where are we going? And when is this thing behind us now? Nobody can answer the last part of that,” Newsom said. “We’re all affected by this pandemic.”

Another Democrat, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, has proposed a $10 billion plan to increase the state’s health care workforce by 20% over the next five years after the sector suffered high burnout rates during the pandemic.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who won re-election last year, announced he was reinstating a public health emergency he had declared due to the pandemic. Murphy said the order was primarily to pursue a mask mandate in schools and daycares. It also preserves a test or vaccination requirement for state workers and healthcare employees.

“We’re all in this. And we have to keep moving forward together,” Murphy said. “But try as best he can to roll us back and further divide us, one thing is certain.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has asked Kansas’ Republican-dominated legislature to stay in place until March orders she issued that ease state licensing requirements for medical staff and nursing home workers. medical care. She also called for a tuition freeze, arguing it would help students affected by the pandemic.

“In every corner of our state, ordinary people continue to do extraordinary things,” Kelly said. “The Kansas spirit of neighbor helping neighbor has never been stronger.”

Despite speaking out against vaccine requirements, some Republican governors are still urging resisters in their state to get vaccinated.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage you, I implore you, I implore you to speak with your doctor and get it,” Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “I say this, even if you don’t agree with all the positions I have taken. I want both of us to be here to continue these disagreements.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has canceled his scheduled appearance before lawmakers to deliver his state of the state address after testing positive for COVID-19. But the Republican governor still gave a written speech read by a clerk.

While emphasizing his opposition to vaccine requirements, Justice praised the state’s incentive program that included prizes throughout 2021 for residents who got vaccinated. Earlier this month, the court asked the federal government to allow West Virginia to begin offering a fourth dose of the vaccine to certain at-risk residents four months after their first booster.

“We will continue to be light in the dark, until this pandemic is behind us once and for all,” Justice said.


Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla.; Adam Beam in Sacramento, Calif.; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Michael Catalini in Newark, NJ; John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., Stephen Groves in Pierre, SD; Bob Christie and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix; Tom Davies in Indianapolis; and Marina Villeneuve in Albany, NY contributed to this report.

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