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Ohio Republicans resurrect House bill weakening vaccine mandates

The House on Thursday passed HB218 adding a “personal conscience” exemption to all Ohio vaccine mandates.
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 5:48 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WXIX) - Ohio House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday that would largely invalidate vaccine mandates in schools and private businesses.

House Bill 218 would add a “personal conscience” exemption to all vaccine mandates in Ohio schools and workplaces. The exemption would require that a student or employee submit a single written statement and no more.

“Once the employee submits the written statement, the employer shall accept and honor the exemption and shall not terminate the employee’s employment because the employee claimed the exemption,” the bill text reads.

Additionally, the bill adds exemptions for medical contraindications, which would require a physician’s signature, and for natural immunity, which would require documentation of antibody levels no more than once yearly.

It would also bar public and private entities from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for any reason.

Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) introduced the bill on March 16. It had hearings in the House Commerce and Labor Committee in April, September and lastly on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday’s committee hearing, the two-page bill still exclusively concerned curfews on bars and restaurants. Overnight, according to the bill’s legislative history, it swelled to 36 pages and now contains no references to curfews of any kind.

Instead, the current HB218 appears to be a resurrected version of another House bill with the same language and the same provisions.

House Bill 435, dubbed the “Vaccine Fairness Act,” was fast-tracked through the House Health Committee on Sept. 28, the same day it was introduced. It was slated to go before the full House the next day, but major pushback from interest groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Hospital Association, placed the bill in limbo.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) was the primary sponsor of HB 435 and is listed as a co-sponsor of HB218.

The move comes after a faction of GOP lawmakers threatened to withhold their votes for a congressional redistricting map unless they saw action on an anti-vaccine mandate bill, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.

The bill must pass the Senate before it can go before Gov. Mike DeWine.

House Democrats immediately came out against HB218, saying last-minute changes to the bill undermine the recommendations of public health experts.

“This bill panders to extremist groups and conspiracy theorists who have led the charge in pushing anti-vaccine bills. HB 218 gets in the way of expert, business, school, and community efforts to provide safety. It will prolong the pandemic and lead to more people dying in our state,” said Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin).

State Reps. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) says she introduced an amendment during session that would allow all healthcare providers to require COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans rejected the amendment, she contends, despite widespread support from healthcare organizations.

“It’s ridiculous that we continue voting on this kind of ill-conceived legislation,” Russo said. “Statehouse Republicans continue catering to extremist factions and ignoring the recommendations of our business, scientific, and medical experts to the detriment of Ohioans’ health. As long as we keep going down this road, the pandemic will continue, more people will die unnecessarily, and Ohio will be slow to recover.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Waters says the bill puts Ohioans’ health and safety at risk and “handcuffs” Ohio businesses and organizations, preventing them from taking critical steps to keep their employees safe.

“It’s far past time for Republicans to stop playing political games with a pandemic. Instead of focusing on critical issues that matter, like fixing gerrymandered state maps or taking action to stop Ohioans from bearing the cost of the GOP’s $60 million bribery scheme, Republicans are wasting time jamming a bill through the legislature that handcuffs businesses and puts Ohioans’ health and safety at risk.”

Ohio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Stivers issued the following statement on HB18:

“We were extremely disappointed the Ohio House voted today to limit the rights of employers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees and customers. The Ohio Chamber is looking forward to making our case in the Ohio Senate on why it is imperative to protect the rights of Ohio’s private employers.”

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