Ohio House anti-vaccine mandate bill may face slower Senate road


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A fast-tracked Ohio House Republican bill limiting employers’ ability to require that workers receive the coronavirus vaccine as a condition of employment may face a slower road in the Senate, a top Senate lawmaker said Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, a coalition of major Ohio business groups, universities, doctor and nurse professional organizations, health care associations and hospitals announced their opposition to the bill, which was up for a vote by the full House Wednesday afternoon.

Public and private sector employees could seek exemptions from employer-mandated coronavirus vaccines in three general areas, including an ability to demonstrate the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, under the bill approved by the GOP-controlled House Health Committee Tuesday the same day it was introduced.

The bill is meant to replace a previous anti-vaccination bill that included a ban on employers requiring vaccines of any kind, including for diseases such as the flu. That measure is considered dead.

Once it reaches the Senate, the House bill isn’t likely to move as quickly, Senate Health Chairman Steve Huffman said Wednesday.

“I think the Senate will give it a little more due process than it received in the House,” said Huffman, a Republican from Tipp City in western Ohio. “When it comes over, we’ll take our time in whatever committee it goes to and look deeply into it.” Huffman, a physician, didn’t address the bill’s merits.

Senate President Matt Huffman, who is Steve Huffman’s cousin, cast doubt last week on anything that would hinder businesses from making their own business decisions, such as mandating vaccines for workers.

“I don’t think our caucus wants to mandate anywhere in the private sector, or get involved in preventing them from mandating,” Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said Sept. 22.

Employees who could show proof they run the risk of a negative medical reaction, and those who don’t want the vaccine for reasons of conscience, including religious convictions, would also be exempt from employer mandates, under the legislation co-sponsored by GOP Reps. Rick Carfagna of Delaware and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati.

The exemptions would also be available for employees and students at Ohio’s public and private schools, colleges and universities. The legislation would also prevent governments from requiring proof of vaccination to enter locally or state-owned public facilities, which would include publicly funded sports stadiums.

The legislation does not prevent private businesses from requiring vaccination proof.

The measure still falls short of the medical and business community’s wishes concerning vaccine requirements by employers, the business, health care and hospital coalition said in a Wednesday morning letter to lawmakers.

“Protection of an employer’s rights to make decisions in the best interest of their employees and those we serve cannot be over stated,” the coalition said.

The House bill isn’t universal in allowing the exceptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. For example, employees of children’s hospitals, employees who work on hospital intensive care or critical care units, and employees who start work after the proposed legislation takes effect would not be able to claim the exemptions.

Employees would not be responsible for costs imposed by employers for alternative methods to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as masking or testing, according to the bill. Employees would have to cover the cost of proving they already have a natural immunity to the coronavirus.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press