Newly sworn-in Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares wasted no time showing there is a new sheriff in town.
On Friday, two weeks after taking office, the Republican issued his first legal opinion as attorney general concluding Virginia’s state universities have no legal authority to require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of enrollment, WAVY-TV reported.
Miyares noted that the state’s General Assembly sets specific vaccine requirements for students to attend universities, and the COVID-19 vaccine is not listed among them.
“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly has amended other statutes to address pandemic-related issues,” Miyares said.
“To date, the General Assembly has not amended the specific immunizations enumerated in (state code) to include immunization for COVID-19, and boards of visitors may not exercise an implied power to require a certain vaccine when a specific statute governing vaccination excludes it.”
Miyares’ predecessor, former Attorney General Mark Herring, had concluded in a previous legal opinion issued in April 2021 that the General Assembly had granted broad powers to state colleges to set health policies, including requiring COVID-19 vaccination.
The new attorney general disagreed.
BREAKING: I’ve issued my first ever Attorney General opinion – Virginia state universities cannot mandate the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for enrollment or in-person attendance.
Check it out here ⬇️⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/dliMICczCZ
— Jason Miyares (@JasonMiyaresVA) January 28, 2022
“Although the General Assembly specifically authorized public institutions of higher education to assist the Department of Health and local health departments in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the legislation did not grant such institutions power to impose vaccine requirements,” Miyares said.
The Washington Post reported the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, the College of William & Mary, George Mason University and the University of Mary Washington are among the state universities that have already rescinded vaccine requirements for faculty and staff based on an executive order Youngkin issued on his first day in office, which ended the mandate for all the commonwealth’s employees.
“We will continue to ensure that every Virginian has access to the information necessary to make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccination and ensure all who desire a vaccination can obtain one,” Youngkin’s executive order read.
“However, the requirement of state employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and disclose their vaccination status or engage in mandatory testing is harmful to their individual freedoms and personal privacy.”
Youngkin has also issued an executive order ending mask mandates in public schools.
Multiple school districts — including Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest in the state — sued Youngkin in response seeking to override the executive order.
Miyares, who is defending the state in court, told WAVY earlier this week, “We live in a pluralistic society. You absolutely have a right to have your child masked for seven or eight hours a day.
“But recognize, there are going to be other parents who reach a different conclusion.”
Miyares predicted the state legislature will also take up the matter of ending mask mandates in schools.
On taking office, the new AG fired roughly 30 staffers who served for his predecessor, including the general legal counsels for the University of Virginia and George Mason University, according to The Washington Post.
UVA’s general counsel, Tim Heaphy, had been on a leave to work for the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol incursion.
Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita told the Post it is common for an incoming attorney general to appoint counsel that shares his “philosophy and legal approach.”