by J.D. Davidson
An Ohio bill that would end COVID-19 vaccination mandates and nearly passed the House last week is back in front of another committee with health care groups from around the state lined up in opposition.
House Bill 435, the Vaccine Fairness Act, received hearings in front of the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Wednesday and Thursday.
The legislation would provide broad exemptions for COVID-19 vaccination mandates from public and private employers and schools. It also would stop any entity from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine that has not been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prohibit government-ordered vaccine passports.
The House was prepared to pass the bill Sept. 29 but instead referred it to the House Rules and Reference Committee. From there, it made its way to the Labor and Commerce Committee, where Democrats questioned what they called fringe views from proponents and Republicans.
“Today, I heard comments from Republican committee members that they fear losing Ohio workers because of vaccine mandates,” Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said. “This is the same radical right-wing conservative party that wants to cut unemployment benefits because there are too many job opportunities available right now. These are the politicians that still think COVID-19, which has killed over 700,000 Americans, is just as bad as the flu.
“Young people are already leaving this state, and I can promise you it isn’t because of the vaccine. It’s because they are sick and tired of the Majority party’s constant pandering to conspiracy theorists who are determined to undermine the public’s trust in a scientifically proven, effective vaccine,” Lepore-Hagan said.
Opponent testimony Thursday came from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio State Medical Association and many others who said the legislation would endanger lives and cause economic disruption.
“Businesses have a responsibility to assess risk of disease exposure and develop a plan to protect their clientele and staff from health and safety hazards,” Monica Hueckel, senior director of government relations for the Ohio State Medical Association, testified. “By broadening exemptions for vaccination requirements, HB 435 would effectively take away the rights of most Ohio business owners and operators to determine standards in order to prevent employees from posing direct safety threats to each other and other individuals in the workplace.”
The bill allows people vaccine exemptions with proof of a negative medical reaction, religious reasons or for reasons of conscience. It covers private- and public-sector employees, as well as students at public and private schools, colleges and universities.
The bill still would allow a private business to require proof of vaccine or a negative test for customers and does not apply to those working at a children’s hospital, in a critical care or intensive care unit, those covered by a collective bargaining agreement or employees hired after the effective date.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is regional editor for The Center Square.