House republicans unveil bill that would ban mandatory vaccines

COLUMBUS — House Republicans Tuesday unveiled their latest version of a bill to ban most employers from requiring workers to get the COVID vaccine.

It came in the Ohio House Committee, with details on the bill given to committee members just five minutes before the hearing.

Co-sponsor Rep. Rick Carfagna, R- Columbus, calls the plan the “Ohio COVID-19 Fairness Act.”

It prohibits employers from requiring workers to get the vaccine if it has not been given full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. “House Bill 435 represents a sensible path of fairness towards all as we navigate this pandemic together,” Carfagna said in testimony before the committee.

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In an interview earlier with WHIO-TV, Rep. Jena Powell, R- Arcanum, said she supports the bill. “We are having a lot of trouble with vaccine mandates from businesses on individuals. The With the Biden administration coming out, saying any business over 100 people has to have a vaccine mandate, Ohio is pushing back and saying “no,” enough is enough. Individuals should have the ability to either take the vaccine or not based upon their own preference, working with their own health care provider,” Powell said.

The bill establishes a new exemption for people who do not want to get the vaccine if they face a mandate from their employer. It says people who have “reasons of conscience” may decline the vaccine without suffering any discrimination at work. Religious exemptions would also continue. In both cases, no additional information would be required for a person claiming an exemption.

The bill had one hearing Tuesday afternoon after multiple sessions on other versions of the proposal. Critics said more time was needed for questions for the bill’s sponsors and for testimony from interested parties, including the Ohio Hospital Association. The bill did carve out two types of employers that are not covered by the proposal, meaning their workers could be required to get the vaccine. They include people who work at Children’s hospitals and those who work in hospital Intensive Care Units.

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The vaccine bill also prohibits so-called vaccine passports required for entry into publicly owned facilities, including sports arenas owned by cities or public universities. It also extends a previously approved legal protection for schools and businesses that might face lawsuits from someone claiming that they caught COVID while at the school or business’s facilities.

After the hearing, in a written statement, Health Committee member Rep, Allison Russo, D- Upper Arlington, said “Here we go again, discussing improperly-vetted, ill-considered legislation.” Another Democrat on the committee, Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, the only doctor on the health committee, said “Dozens of Ohioans are dying every day from COVID-19. We should be focused on public health measures that keep people healthy, not bills that undermine public confidence in vaccines.”

The committee approved the bill on a party-line 11-to-3 vote, despite clear opposition from Gov. Mike DeWine. Multiple times earlier, DeWine expressed support for vaccine mandates by employers, both public and private. Powell voiced hope Tuesday that if the vaccine bill wins passage in the Ohio House and Senate that rather veto the bill, DeWine would sign it. “So what we’re trying to do is make it as strong as possible, while still getting him to sign the piece,” Powell said.

The proposal now heads to a vote of the full Ohio House on Wednesday. If it wins approval there it will go to the Ohio Senate for committee hearings.