Vaccine mandate bill back before lawmakers

COLUMBUS — A proposal to make it easier for people to avoid vaccine mandates at work moved another step forward at the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday with a new round of hearings. 

The plan, HB 435, gives people more secure legal footing to avoid a vaccine mandate from their employer and still keep their job. It was passed last week along party lines in the Ohio House Health Committee, but when it went to the full House for a vote, House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, discovered it did not have enough support to pass. Cupp sent it to a new committee for fine-tuning.

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Hearings opened Wednesday with an opening statement from Chairman Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk. “The real question in discussion here is whether the lines between personal freedom and company rights to mandate your vaccination, where that lies,” Stein said. The proposal allows workers to avoid the vaccine mandate from their employer for “reasons of conscience.”

The first person to testify before the House Commerce and Labor Committee was a business owner in Springfield and former State Representative, Ross McGregor.  He told the committee when he was a House member, he came to Columbus to cut government red tape.

“Regrettably, I’m here to testify against HB 435 because its exactly that...burdensome and imposing state will on business ability to operate,” McGregor said.

The plan has support from anti-vaccine groups and others who do not want to be required to get the shot by their employer. Committee member Rep. Don Jones, R- Freeport voiced support for the bill during McGregor’s testimony. He said people do not want to work for a business that would require vaccination. “We’re just digging a hole deeper for ourselves if we don’t let the working men and women of our country have a little bit of decision of what goes in their body with a vaccine that we know only little bit about,” Jones said.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Hospital Association remain vocal opponents of the plan. The Miami Valley’s only House member on the committee does not support the bill. Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D- Dayton, said the state should not be promoting ways for people to avoid vaccination.

Instead, Blackshear says the state should be promoting more vaccination because COVID’s negative impact on the state is already well documented. “We’ve seen in Ohio over a million people have gotten COVID. Over 70,000 people have been hospitalized and over 20,000 have ultimately passed from COVID-19. Si, I don’t think it is wise that people get around it,” Blackshear said.

Wednesday’s hearing ended with a promise from the chairman that additional testimony would be taken Thursday. Amendments may be considered before a possible vote in the Ohio House next week.

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