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Vaccine Bill Would Allow COVID Shot Mandates In Ohio With Lots Of Exemptions

Dan Konik

A bill allowing businesses and schools to require COVID vaccines that's set for a full vote in the Ohio House also guarantees broad exemptions for employees and students.

The measure attempts to address elements of COVID-related bans that have been proposed in other bills.

The bill states employees and students can be exempt from a COVID vaccine mandate if they have a medical contraindication, natural immunity from having COVID and reasons of conscience.

State Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township) told the Ohio House Health Committee that includes religious beliefs.

“We are also making clear that employees and students asserting a religious exemption would not be required to provide any additional documentation other than a written statement claiming the exemption," Carfagna said.

Carfagna said the same exemptions apply for students at K-12 schools, public higher education institutions, and private higher education institutions. But they would not apply at children's hospitals, or for those who work in ICU or critical care.

Only the Pfizer vaccine can be mandated under the bill, since it has full FDA approval and the Moderna and J&J shots are still under emergency use. That's similar to a law that takes effect October 13 blocking schools and universities from requiring COVID vaccines that don't have full FDA approval.

The bill also bans proof of vaccinations to come into state buildings or agencies, but allows businesses to use those so-called vaccine passports. The law would expire in June 2023.

Carfagna and his joint sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said they came up with the bill in consultation with groups such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Hospital Association.

But Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) voted against moving the bill forward, and said there wasn’t enough time to consider the text of the bill or hear from those important groups.

“It’s just a very bad way to make public policy, and I think it’s an insult to this institution that we have moved forward in this way," Russo said.

The bill brings together provisions from other bills on vaccine mandates, including the controversial one that would have banned not only so-called vaccine passports but all mandatory inoculations, from childhood shots to the COVID vaccine.

That bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), was removed from the House Health Committee after launching a discharge petition to get it to a full House vote. Fifty lawmakers would have to sign the petition to force that vote, and so far, only eight Republicans have.

Business groups have come out strongly against the bill, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had said he would not sign it.

This bill on vaccine mandate exemptions would also extend legal immunity for businesses, shielding them from COVID-related lawsuits.

A law passed last year offered protection for law enforcement, medical professionals and large and small businesses from lawsuits over things like cleanliness guidelines or decisions on medical care, as long as there’s no reckless or intentional conduct. It was one of the first COVID immunity laws in the country, and it expires on Thursday.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.