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Judge hears arguments in Jefferson County lawsuit challenging Gov. Brown’s vaccine mandate

OSP captain says nearly 300 agency employees have not complied

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) – A retired Oregon Supreme Court justice heard arguments in a virtual courtroom Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by several Oregon State Police troopers and firefighters, seeking an order blocking Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, less than two weeks before the Oct. 18 deadline.

The lawsuit was filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court a month ago against the governor and state by attorney Dan Thenell, representing the Oregon Fraternal Order of Police and nine OSP troopers, five from Central Oregon, as well as several firefighters, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against enforcement of the state’s order.

Along with case law and the like, some news emerged from the hearing, as OSP Captain Ryan Martin, director of the agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, said he’d received an email Wednesday from OSP Superintendent Terri Davie indicating just 54% compliance with the executive order and 200 vacancies due to retirements and departures.

“A number have resigned, at least a half-dozen within the past month,” said Martin, who declined to state whether he’d been vaccinated, saying it’s “personal, private medical information I do not wish to share” – but that “I do not intend to comply” with the order.

“My beliefs are based on my constitutional beliefs,” he said. “I believe the government has no right to ask me about my personal, private medical information or religious beliefs,” which along with medical reasons are the two areas in which exceptions to the vaccination order can be requested.

Martin said the number of OSP employees who have not complied has dropped from 400 a week ago to 277 as of now, including about 200 troopers. The plan, he said, is to place those individuals who don't comply by the deadline on administrative leave, which he told Thenell will affect services and “potentially” cost some areas of the state OSP coverage entirely.

Marc Abrams, an attorney for the state, asked in cross-examination if Martin knew how many officers would get the vaccine or an approved exception by Oct. 18, and he did not.

Another trooper, Brian Glaser, said he’d had medical issues stemming from a blood clot, is on blood thinners and that his doctor said “under no circumstances” should he get the vaccine. He also cited religious beliefs for refusing the vaccine and concerns about how it developed, but said has not sought an exemption,

The judge noted that the state statute which says employees cannot be required to be immunized includes a caveat – “unless otherwise required by federal or state law, rule or regulation.”

Thenell argued the governor’s order “is clearly not a ‘rule or regulation,’ as defined in other parts of the statute" and called Brown's order “an overreach of her executive authority,” also citing at times Article 1, Section 22 of the Oregon Constitution.

Another state attorney, Christina Beatty-Walters, cited several state laws that give the governor authority, in emergency situations, and said “the Legislature has the authority to delegate rule-making powers to the governor.”

Abrams also cast the lawsuit as premature, in terms of claiming damage, as “no one has been discharged,” and more could be vaccinated as the deadline approaches. “They have options: to get the vaccination, apply for an exception or look for other employment,: he said, so the claim if “irreparable damage” doesn’t hold water.

Beatty-Walters said the governor weighed the policy issue and health implications of unvaccinated state workers interacting with others.

Landau said he will be reviewing the briefs submitted as recently as late Tuesday, and due to the importance of the issue “will work to get a ruling out as quickly as I can.”

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Barney Lerten

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