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Ohio lawmakers grapple with vaccine exemption bill

Written on Oct 1, 2021

By Barbara Benton, CAE, OSCPA vice president, government relations

Lawmakers this week quickly moved – then held off on – legislation to limit businesses’ and schools’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccination.

House Bill 435 on Sept. 28 flew out of the House Health Committee by an 11-3 vote immediately after sponsor testimony was given. Bill sponsors said they relied on weeks of testimony and subsequent high-level discussions with a handful of business, medical, education and other organizations to draft what they thought was a bill that threads the needle between concerns of those who want to ban vaccine mandates and those who want to require vaccines of employees and students.

However, efforts to have a House floor vote just 24 hours later were unsuccessful, as proponents and opponents of the COVID vaccine quickly shared significant concerns. In response to those interests – including several legislators whose votes were needed – the bill was referred back to the Rules and Reference Committee for further consideration.

As originally drafted, the bill would enable public and private employers, hospitals, K-12, universities and colleges the option to require the Pfizer vaccine, though current employees must be offered exemptions for religious, conscience or medical reasons, or because the person has natural antibodies. Employers could require vaccination of future employees hired after the effective date of the bill without any exceptions. Certain current hospital workers could be denied the exemptions.

The bill is silent on masking and testing, meaning policies in those areas would be up to the business, school or facility. A key provision that could have generated late opposition by some was that any requirements or lack thereof by employers, schools, hospitals, etc. would be superseded by a collective bargaining agreement that addresses agreed-upon COVID protocols.

Of note: at the urging of OSCPA and the broader business community the bill would extend the essential qualified immunity law against COVID claims through June 30, 2023.

Stay tuned to OSCPA news sources for developments on this important issue!