COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Republican-backed bill that would prohibit Ohio employers from requiring workers to receive vaccinations heard additional testimony Tuesday from supporters and opponents.
The measure before the GOP-controlled House Health Committee has attracted opponents of COVID-19 vaccines but does not mention the coronavirus. Instead, it addresses mandatory requirements for all vaccines, such as for the flu.
The legislation would also prevent employees from being fired as a result of refusing to get vaccinated and would allow them to sue their employers if they felt they’d been wrongly dismissed.
Several dozen people rallied outside the Ohio Statehouse Tuesday ahead of the hearing, carrying signs with slogans such as, “Enact Vaccine Choice” and “No To Forced Vaccines!”
The Health Committee has received more than 1,000 submissions about the bill, ranging from people who fear the impact of COVID-19 on their health to people who fear losing their job for refusing to be vaccinated, said Chairman Scott Lipps, a Southwestern Ohio Republican.
“Everybody’s voice has been heard,” Lipps said, before cautioning witnesses to avoid rude or bullying comments.
Dr. Emily Miller, a pediatrician and mother of four, testified against the bill, saying it would exacerbate the health crisis hospitals are currently facing with increases in admissions because of the coronavirus.
Brian Latham, testifying as a father of three, said he supported the legislation as an opponent of mandates. He said he questioned receiving a vaccine that hasn’t been tested for long-term side effects.
Debate over the legislation achieved national notoriety in June when a doctor testified before the committee that people have become magnetized by the vaccine, allowing metal to stick to their skin. That has not happened.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin June 3 specifically debunking this falsehood, explaining that all COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals.
Backers, including bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Gross, say vaccinations should be a personal choice.
Opponents of the bill include hospitals, state associations of doctors and nurses, and other health care groups that say the measure could reverse decades of protection against preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis and tuberculosis. Both the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce are also opposed.
Lawmakers shouldn’t be micromanaging businesses as they try to keep their employees safe, chamber president and CEO Steve Stivers said last week.
“No legislator can claim to be pro-business and at the same time support efforts to restrict an employer’s ability to manage their workplace free from government interference,” said Stivers, a former Republican state lawmaker and U.S. congressman.
The fate of the bill in its current form is unclear. House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said Monday that the committee chairman was instructed to hold one additional hearing—the one on Tuesday—without scheduling a vote or making changes.
Hearings will then stop “while we work with the chairman, the bill’s sponsor, and all interested parties on this important issue,” Cupp and the rest of the House GOP leadership said in a statement.
GOP Gov. Mike DeWine also opposes the legislation, calling it “a very, very serious mistake” that, in the case of hospitals, would strip their authority to decide how to keep patients safe.
Last month, however, DeWine signed a bill into law prohibiting public schools and colleges from requiring individuals to receive vaccines not granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The governor had urged the FDA to grant such approval, which it did on Monday for the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer.
The anti-vaccination mandate bill before the House Health Committee also strengthens notices that schools must provide parents about exemptions they can seek against having their children vaccinated. In addition, the bill would repeal a state law requiring college students to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated against hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis.
A new law in Montana is the only measure that similarly bans employer-required vaccinations, though it permits health care facilities to require unvaccinated workers and those who refuse to disclose their vaccination status to wear masks and take other precautions.