Lawmakers hit brakes on anti-vaccine mandate bill


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A House Republican bill limiting Ohio employers’ ability to require that workers receive the coronavirus vaccine as a condition of employment will face a slower legislative route than predicted just a day earlier.

Public and private sector employees could seek exemptions from employer-mandated coronavirus vaccines in three general areas, including an ability to demonstrate the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, under the bill approved by the GOP-controlled House Health Committee Tuesday the same day it was introduced.

Its sponsors predicted passage by the full House on Wednesday, but House Speaker Bob Cupp announced that it needed more time.

“It’s important that we have a consensus within our caucus on how we move forward, so we’re going to take time to do that,” said Cupp, a Lima Republican.

Barely 24 hours old, the bill had already drawn opposition from across the political spectrum. Wednesday morning, a coalition of major Ohio business groups, universities, doctor and nurse professional organizations, health care associations and hospitals announced their opposition to the bill.

“Protection of an employer’s rights to make decisions in the best interest of their employees and those we serve cannot be over stated,” the coalition said.

Meanwhile, the conservative Ohio Christian Alliance declared on its website, “Why are they rushing this bill?”

The opposition from business and medical groups came even though the legislation is a more moderate version of its predecessor in legislative debate, an anti-vaccination bill that included a ban on employers requiring vaccines of any kind, including for diseases such as the flu. That measure is considered dead.

Even before Cupp’s announcement, Senate Republicans made clear it wouldn’t be fast-tracked.

“I think the Senate will give it a little more due process than it received in the House,” Senate Health Chairman Steve Huffman, a Republican from Tipp City in western Ohio, said Wednesday. “When it comes over, we’ll take our time in whatever committee it goes to and look deeply into it.” Huffman, a physician, didn’t address the bill’s merits.

Senate President Matt Huffman, who is Steve Huffman’s cousin, cast doubt last week on anything that would hinder companies from making their own business decisions, such as mandating vaccines for workers.

“I don’t think our caucus wants to mandate anywhere in the private sector, or get involved in preventing them from mandating,” Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said Sept. 22.

Even if eventually approved and signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine—who has signaled his objection to banning companies from enacting vaccine mandates, especially hospitals—the legislation still wouldn’t take effect until next year.

Under the bill, employees who could show proof they run the risk of a negative medical reaction, and those who don’t want the vaccine for reasons of conscience, including religious convictions, would also be exempt from employer mandates.

The exemptions would also be available for employees and students at Ohio’s public and private schools, colleges and universities. Governments would be prevented from requiring proof of vaccination to enter locally or state-owned public facilities, which would include publicly funded sports stadiums, under the legislation co-sponsored by GOP Reps. Rick Carfagna of Delaware and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati

The legislation does not prevent private businesses from requiring vaccination proof.

The House bill isn’t universal in allowing the exceptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. For example, employees of children’s hospitals, employees who work on hospital intensive care or critical care units, and employees who start work after the proposed legislation takes effect would not be able to claim the exemptions.

Employees would not be responsible for costs imposed by employers for alternative methods to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as masking or testing, according to the bill. Employees would have to cover the cost of proving they already have a natural immunity to the coronavirus.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press