PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A state lawmaker is getting flak from some Rhode Islanders for his proposal to fine unvaccinated residents $50 a month.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Sam Bell, would apply to all Rhode Islanders who are eligible for the vaccine.
Bell said on top of that monthly fine, unvaccinated Rhode Islanders would also be required to pay twice the amount of their personal income taxes.
“It’s really important that we take all of the precautions we can to make sure that everyone in Rhode Island is vaccinated,” Bell said.
The fine would apply to all unvaccinated Rhode Islanders over the age of 16. The fine for unvaccinated Rhode Islanders under the age of 16 would fall on the parent or guardian.
Bell likens his proposed fine to getting a speeding ticket.
“Plenty of people break all sorts of rules and if they get caught they pay a fine,” he said. “It’s not a particularly severe penalty.”
Bell fully expects the small percentage of unvaccinated Rhode Islanders to ignore the law, adding that they will only be fined if they get caught.
While Bell describes the fine as a “mild consequence,” lawmakers like Sen. Jessica De La Cruz argue that those monthly fines will pile up over time.
“I have not, nor will I ever support, legislation that coerces Rhode Islanders into making medical decisions or face steep financial damages,” De La Cruz wrote in a letter to her constituents. “This is an unconscionable overreach of legislative powers.”
De La Cruz also believes Bell’s bill unfairly penalizes Rhode Islanders for their personal medical decisions.
“This is dangerous legislation and sends the message that our government doesn’t trust you to make the right choice for you and your family,” she continued.
Bell said unvaccinated Rhode Islanders can file for a medical exemption, which must be signed by at least three licensed physicians. As it’s written now, the bill does not allow for religious exemptions.
The legislation has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for consideration, though De La Cruz believes it “has little chance of passing.”
Still, she’s urging those who are against the bill to contact Bell and the bill’s other sponsors regarding their opposition to the bill.
Bell shared a few of the expletive-filled messages and emails that he’s received from Rhode Islanders who are against his proposal on social media. He tells 12 News he’s not concerned about the small percentage of Rhode Islanders who he believes are “divorced from the realities of science.”