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Lots of discussion, no resolution on House vaccine bill

Written on Oct 14, 2021

After Ohio lawmakers scheduled – and then canceled – a vote Oct. 13 on a vaccination mandate exemption measure, House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said his chamber will “move on” from the vaccine discussion for lack of consensus.

Nevertheless, lawmakers are being urged to return to some of the concerns addressed in this bill that remain unresolved, particularly lawsuit immunity for businesses – an issue championed by The Ohio Society of CPAs and other business organizations. Immunity previously granted by H.B. 606 (133rd GA) expired Sept. 30.

The legislation, House House Bill 435 435, co-sponsored by Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, and Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, would have limited businesses’ and schools’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccination through four broad exemptions, and would have extended the essential qualified immunity law against COVID claims through June 30, 2023.

House leadership debuted HB 435 two weeks ago in the House Health Committee and tried to bring it to the floor a day later. But after a lengthy caucus gathering, they deferred a vote, opting for informal hearings in the House Commerce and Labor last week for further vetting. House Rules and Reference Committee then took the rare step of scheduling the bill for amendments and a vote Wednesday morning, but recessed before taking any action for further caucus deliberations.

Carfagna said they were considering elimination of the bill’s distinction between existing employees and those hired after its effective date, as well as delay in the sunset clause for the bill’s mandate exemptions to the fall of 2025, from 2023.

Shortly before Wednesday’s House session was to start, Cupp released a statement saying there’d be no action.

“After countless hours of hearings and deliberation on this topic, there is still no consensus on how or whether to move forward,” Cupp wrote. “Consequently, the House at this time will pause additional hearings on this matter. We are continuing our work on other legislative matters that are important to Ohio and its people.

“There are some that would like to go further than we proposed in terms of restrictions and prohibitions, there are those who think it already goes too far,” he told reporters after the session. “And as a result, there was simply not a consensus on it, just as there is not across the state of Ohio.”

Asked if the bill is effectively dead or if alternatives would arise in its place, he repeatedly said only that the chamber is “moving on” to other issues.

Hannah News Service contributed to this report.