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House passes vaccine mandate exemption bill

Written on Nov 24, 2021

OSCPA staff report 

House Republicans succeeded last week in approving a bill to create exemptions for workers and students from mandates to be vaccinated against COVID-19, after lack of agreement on the issue thwarted prior attempts at a floor vote on the matter. The floor vote on House Bill 218 was 58-32, with only Reps. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, and Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, joining all the Democrats present to vote no. 

Qualified lawsuit immunity for businesses for COVID-related issues, an issue championed by The Ohio Society of CPAs and other business organizations of the Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice, has been reinstated with H.B. 218 retroactively from September 30, 2021 through June 30, 2023. The bill enacts a new type of qualified immunity and extends the provisions of H.B. 606 of the 133rd General Assembly (which expired September 30, 2021), that granted businesses immunity for employees or customers’ exposure to or transmission or contraction of certain coronaviruses. Here is more information on H.B. 606 [PDF]

The bill further prohibits mandating any vaccine lacking full FDA approval and requires schools and employers to honor exemptions for medical reasons, natural immunity, and reasons of personal conscience, including religious beliefs. The exemptions would sunset Sept. 30, 2025. They are not available to people working or training in a children’s hospital or hospital intensive or critical care unit, although employers are required to make a good faith effort to offer equitable employment to an employee refusing vaccination. 

H.B. 218 also prohibits so-called vaccination passports, barring requirements that a person show proof of vaccination status to enter public or private buildings or to receive services from public or private entities. In addition, it bars K-12 schools from denying students the ability to participate in school activities based on vaccination status. 

The path to last week’s vote had many twists and turns. The House Health Committee had called multiple hearings on House Bill 248, which more broadly seeks to ban vaccination requirements even beyond COVID-19, before House leadership declared a “pause” on the measure. They then debuted HB435 in September, trying to introduce and pass it in the space of a week but delaying the floor vote at the last minute. It was then sent to House Commerce and Labor for a week of informal hearings and queued up for another floor vote, only for Cupp to pull it again, citing a lack of consensus and saying the chamber was moving on to other topics. A day later, House Health Committee Chairman Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, announced plans to revive HB248 and bring it up for a vote – prompting Cupp to send him a letter ordering the hearing cancelled. 

House Bill 218 now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.  

Hannah News Service contributed to this report.