Navajo Nation Council supports COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council approved emergency legislation aimed at requiring tribal government employees to vaccinate against COVID-19.

The bill was introduced by Delegate Eugene Tso nearly a week after a presidential executive order gave government employees until Sept. 29 to be fully vaccinated or face repeated testing for the virus.

The vaccination requirements outlined in the bill are for all government employees, in addition to "urging" all tribally owned enterprises, authorities and corporations and schools, businesses and other entities that operate on the tribal land to "promptly adopt" vaccination requirements.

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Tso was excused from the Aug. 26 special session due to a personal manner and delegates did not debate the bill before voting.

However, Delegate Edmund Yazzie questioned the need for the measure because it falls along the lines of the Aug. 20 executive order signed by tribal President Jonathan Nez and Attorney General Doreen McPaul.

Dana Bobroff, lead attorney for the council, said the bill was "advisable or necessary" because the executive order applies only to executive branch employees.

A review of the Navajo Nation Code shows "that the president's executive order authority extends to the executive branch," she said.

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"While the president's executive order attempts to also impose a mandate on the legislative branch, the judicial branch, all enterprises – that is an overextension of the president's executive order authority," Bobroff said.

Nez has 10 calendar days after the council resolution is submitted to his office to sign or veto it.

"The council's action reaffirms the executive order and ensures that we are on the same page when it comes to requiring employees to get fully vaccinated," Nez said in a statement to The Daily Times on Aug. 27.

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He explained that maintaining direct services to the people at this time is "crucial" and actions like requiring employees to vaccinate will sustain those services.

"We have to do everything possible to protect all employees, especially in the midst of a public health emergency. The executive order applies to all Navajo Nation employees with the intent of protecting all our people. That is the president's duty as entrusted to him by the people," Nez said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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