COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Private companies and public entities would be banned from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter a facility or conduct business, under new anti-vaccine legislation pushed by House Republicans on Thursday that would cover everything from privately run theaters to publicly-owned sports arenas.
In addition, schools could not prevent students from participating in activities based on their COVID-19 vaccination status, according to the legislation approved by the GOP-controlled House Commerce and Labor Committee on Thursday. It is now headed to the floor where it was expected to pass.
The bill also exempts employees from workplace vaccine mandates if they show proof of COVID-19 antibodies, provide evidence that they run the risk of a negative medical reaction, or decline the vaccine for reasons of conscience, including religious convictions. Employees or students who claim such exemptions couldn’t be fired or expelled.
The bill doesn’t extend the exemptions to people who work in children’s hospitals or on intensive care units, but requires those entities to make a “good faith effort” to provide an alternative placement for unvaccinated workers.
“Individuals must have the opportunity to have that autonomy for themselves,” said Rep. Al Cutrona, a suburban Youngstown Republican who helped shepherd the bill through committee. “More importantly, we want to ensure that people are not losing their jobs or their form of employment.”
Earlier this year, Montana banned vaccine requirements for employees. This is also a high stakes legal fight nationally involving more than two dozen Republican-led states, including Ohio, which have filed lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirement for private companies.
Thursday’s vote was the third time House Republicans pushed the bill’s provisions in recent weeks, with House Speaker Bob Cupp previously stopping the legislation, saying there wasn’t enough agreement.
But Commerce and Labor Chairman Dick Stein said he expected the full House to approve it Thursday. The Republican from Norwalk in northern Ohio said the legislation was about personal choice and individual freedom.
“Mandating through any source, whether it’s federal or state, will never create compliance,” said Stein, who said he’s fully vaccinated. “We need to do this through education and free will and personal choice between physicians and their families and the communities they live in.”
Whether the bill will become law remains uncertain. All major business and health groups previously opposed the legislation, and on Thursday, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association called the new bill “an unnecessary invasion of employer rights.”
Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, has also signaled his disapproval of any bill regulating how private businesses can run their companies. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he opposes both government vaccine mandates and government anti-vaccine mandates.