Ohio lawmakers try again to limit, halt COVID vaccine mandates

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Some Ohio Republicans are again trying to pass legislation dealing with COVID-19 vaccinations, including one measure that seeks to protect military members who refuse the shots and another that aims to expand exemptions to employee and student mandates.

Republicans have tried and failed several times this year to pass bills prohibiting vaccination mandates or allowing broad exemptions, but have faced pushback from businesses and some health care organizations.

First up before a Senate committee on Tuesday was Senate Resolution 204, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction: “To urge the President of the United States not to allow members of the United States Armed Forces to be punished or reprimanded in any way for refusing to submit to a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The Biden Administration announced in July that such vaccinations would be mandatory for all federal employees and on-site contractors, and extended that mandate to the military in August. Active-duty troops have until Dec. 15 to be vaccinated, while reservists and National Guard have until June 30.

ExploreOhio GOP’s anti-vaccine mandate bill on hold again

Hoagland said he has heard concerns from military personnel in the past several months that they don’t know enough about the vaccines or their long-term effects to trust them. They worry about being discharged, though they may only have a few months left to serve, he said.

Local and national experts have stressed that the vaccines are safe and haven’t shown negative long-term effects.

The Army has announced that its active, reserve or Guard troops who refuse vaccination won’t be promoted or allowed to reenlist. Other branches of the military have warned that their members may be discharged for refusal.

State Sen. Tina Maharath, D-Columbus, noted that there is an existing process for service members to request religious and medical exemptions from vaccination.

Last week the federal government announced that 92% of its employees and military members have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 4.5% have requested exemptions.

House Bill 218, sponsored by Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, would prohibit schools, colleges or employers from requiring any vaccine that has not received full FDA approval. So far only the Pfizer vaccine has received that fully; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are provided under FDA emergency authorization.

It also would let students or employees seek exemptions for any such vaccine requirements for medical contraindications, having already had COVID-19, or reasons of conscience or religion. They could do so by submitting a written statement, although the exemptions for medical reasons or having already been infected would require additional documentation.

“Simply put, this legislation expands exemptions,” Cutrona said.

Those measures would sunset on Sept. 30, 2025.

The bill would also prohibit requiring someone to show proof of vaccination to enter a public or private facility or receive a public or private service.

And it would extend through June 2023 the now-lapsed allowance of qualified immunity for health care providers in case COVID-19 is transmitted during care.

Maharath said she’s heard from multiple health care groups, the Ohio Business Round Table and Ohio Chamber of Commerce that they oppose the bill.

Cutrona ascribed such opposition to “massive corporations,” saying he hasn’t seen that response from small business owners.

ExploreDebate continues on Ohio bill that would allow vaccination mandate exemptions

State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, said past vaccination campaigns have always attracted some level of resistance but were very effective nonetheless.

“When you look at that data, the data shows that you’re better to be vaccinated than to not be vaccinated,” he said.

Cutrona said he doesn’t question the validity of the vaccines, and noted that his bill does allow vaccine requirements for workers in children’s hospitals and intensive care units, so long as those employees are reassigned to other jobs.

Cutrona’s current bill passed the House on Nov. 18 by a 58-32 vote with no Democratic support, and it was introduced in the Senate Nov. 23.

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