Coronavirus

L.A. Council Members Propose Draconian, Unenforceable Vaccine Passports

Los Angeles County is largely vaccinated. This is a punitive, authoritarian performance.

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A couple of Los Angeles City Council members have decided not to be outdone by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent vaccine passport mandate. On Wednesday, they announced they were introducing their own.

L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mitch O'Farrell have introduced a motion instructing the city attorney to draft an ordinance requiring people in Los Angeles to provide proof of at least one vaccine dose in order to enter any indoor spaces "including but not limited to restaurants, bars, retail establishments, fitness centers, spas, and entertainment centers such as stadiums, concert venues, and movie theaters."

There is no actual scientific or safety justification for such a demand. The motion itself notes that more than 70 percent of Los Angeles County residents over the age of 16 have gotten at least one vaccine dose. Hospitalizations and deaths in Los Angeles due to COVID-19 are indeed rising again, but they're nowhere near where they were before vaccines became available. Hospitalizations won't reach that spot again precisely because more than 70 percent of residents are at least partly vaccinated.

Rather, this is all an exhaustingly performative forceful "nudge" to try to make the vaccine holdouts comply and get shots. Martinez frames it all in the most judgmental, insulting way possible in a statement.

"Enough is enough already," Martinez wrote. "Hospital workers are exhausted, moms who have put aside their careers are tired, and our kids cannot afford the loss of another school year. We have three vaccines that work and are readily available, so what's it going to take? Our kids are about to return to school, and the unvaccinated are putting their lives at risk every day. Ask your questions, talk to your doctor and get the vaccine. Let's put this behind us."

It's worth noting that it's the school district's fault kids haven't returned to school. It has bent the knee to teachers unions using the pandemic as a negotiation device and deliberately exaggerating the risks. In other words, Martinez argues that the vaccination passports are needed to stave off future lockdowns, but the lockdowns are themselves a result of government mandates, and if Martinez wants to avoid lockdowns, Los Angeles can just…not have them. The people who Martinez wants to get vaccinations are freely choosing to expose themselves to disease risks.

Her quote is also a bit of a head-scratcher because she seems to think that vaccine passports are some sort of method of putting the pandemic "behind us" and ending its imposition on vaccinated Angelenos rather than the reality that she's proposing a vast, new, difficult-to-manage information mandate that is going to be a nightmare to both roll out and enforce in such a massive city.

The Los Angeles Times is diplomatic when it notes, "It also remains to be seen how such a mandate could be reasonably enforced in a city the size of Los Angeles—one that has often fallen short in carrying out its stated rules."

Let's be clear here: The city consistently drops more balls than a juggler having a seizure when it comes to actually carrying out policy. After voters legalized recreational marijuana, it took years for Los Angeles to get its act together and roll out a business-licensing system to actually allow more storefronts to open, resulting in a continued black market and essentially a continued drug war fueled mostly by high taxes and incompetent bureaucracy.

When the city finally legalized street vending in 2018, even given a year to prepare, the city was apparently unable to actually set up a system that would put permits in the hands of the people who needed them. The city could not adequately provide a piece of paper to guys who wanted to sell hot dogs. Officials think they're going to implement and enforce a policy where every Angeleno provides proof of vaccination and every single store and venue in the city is able to efficiently check them? Nonsense.

In a way, it should be a relief for L.A. residents to know there's no way the city can actually do what Martinez wants and City Attorney Mike Feuer (who is running for mayor) is also encouraging. But that means the policy will likely be ineptly and inconsistently enforced. L.A.'s inability to get its act together to properly license marijuana dispensaries did not stop the city from using its power to force dispensaries to close.

The Times notes that many businesses themselves support vaccine passports so that they can point to the city's ordinance if customers complain or threaten to sue them for denying them service.

What is left unstated with such broad mandates is that some businesses will be better positioned to absorb the costs and burdens of complying with the ordinance than others. Smaller businesses lacking the resources to consistently comply with the policy will inevitably be targeted and punished.

What's also unexplored is the reality that people who are insistent on not getting vaccinated will most certainly figure out how to cheat the system, which will by its nature have to be simple and quick to use. People who are already vaccinated will have to go around constantly proving that status every time they enter a store, and we haven't even discussed how much of a burden this might be to poor people, those who aren't terribly tech-savvy, and folks who don't have smartphones. Meanwhile, the holdouts will easily fake it. Consider how many teens have gotten fake IDs in order to purchase alcohol and enter bars before turning 21.

L.A.'s proposed vaccine passport mandate is authoritarian nonsense that won't prevent the spread of COVID-19, won't encourage vaccinations the way people think it will, and will create a massive bureaucratic burden that will punish both the vaccinated and local businesses.