Major Ohio business groups resist House bill gutting vaccine mandates

The bill was lambasted on Wednesday as an “attack” on the rights of private employers.
Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 8:11 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A bill that would take the teeth out of vaccine mandates in Ohio’s schools and businesses received significant pushback on Wednesday from major interest groups.

House Bill 435, dubbed the Ohio COVID-19 Vaccine Fairness Act, was fast-tracked out of the House Health Committee on Wednesday, the same day it was introduced.

Its top-line exemption—for “reasons of conscience”—allows students or employees to refuse vaccination with a simple written statement. It would effectively transform all vaccine mandates into testing mandates with vaccination opt-outs.

Groups against the current bill include the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Christian Alliance.

Chamber CEO Steve Stivers says the new bill infringes on the rights of private businesses.

“The owners of those businesses should have the ability to manage their business any way they see fit, including protecting the health and safety of their employees and their customers,” he said. “And so, unfortunately, HB 435 takes away those rights and abilities to manage the health and safety of their workplace, of their employees and [of] their customers, and we’re very concerned about that.”

Stivers said the chamber will “stand up against anything that attacks employer’s rights [and] anything that attacks private property ownership and private property rights.”

Manufacturer’s Association President Ryan Augsburger issued a statement calling the bill “an unnecessary invasion” of employers’ rights.

“Issues that directly impact the operations of a business are best decided by those who run and operate those businesses. [HB 435] is not the right policy for Ohio,” he said.

The bill was expected to receive a full vote in the House on Wednesday. Republican leaders instead re-referred it back to the House Rules and Reference Committee.

“We had a lot of very good, very productive conversations on [HB 435,]” said bill co-sponsor Bob Cupp (R-Lima). “There are a few additional issues our members would like more time to explore. I think it’s important that we have a consensus within our caucus on how we move forward, so we’re going to take time to do that.”

The Vaccine Fairness Act

HB 435 would empower most Ohio workers and students to “refuse mandated COVID-19 vaccinations,” according to a spokesperson for Republican lawmakers.

Its sponsors are Seitz and Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township.)

HB 435 would require schools, colleges, universities and businesses that require COVID-19 vaccines to include exemptions for conscience as well as “natural immunity” and “medical contraindications.”

Those exemptions would not be available to medical students or employees working in children’s hospitals, ICU units or critical care units.

The exemptions would only apply to a business’s existing employees.

As with the conscience exemption, to claim a religious exemption the student or employee would only need to submit a statement to that effect in writing.

Claiming an exemption for natural immunity requires the student or employee to provide written documentation that they’ve been tested for COVID-19 antibodies―and did have antibodies “in an amount at least equal to or greater than those conferred” by a COVID-19 vaccine.

ODH could create rules for how often that individual must be retested for antibodies. In the absence of ODH rules, that individual doesn’t have to be retested.

The individual would bear the costs associated with antibody testing.

HB 435 would also prohibit state, county and municipal public facilities from requiring proof of vaccination before entry.

The bill contains a sunset provision. That is, it would only last in effect until June 30, 2023.

“Let’s first be clear about what House Bill 435 doesn’t do,” Carfagna said. “It neither discourages nor prohibits COVID-19 vaccines, nor bars access to any Ohioan wishing to vaccinate against COVID-19. This legislation does not deal in any way with masking or quarantines. It purely seeks to ensure that Ohioans reluctant to take the COVID-19 shot will not be injected against their will and will not have their jobs, their education, or their access to governmental services jeopardized as a result.”

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