Ohio Students Can't Be Barred from School Activities Over COVID Vaccine Status in New Bill

Ohio's Republican-controlled House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill that would bar private companies and public entities like schools from requiring proof of COVID vaccination to enter a building as a customer or participate in school activities.

According to The Associated Press, the bill faces challenges in the state Senate where Senate President Matt Huffman, a Republican, has publicly stated his opposition to any bills that regulate how private companies run their businesses. Gov. Mike DeWine has also stated his opposition to both vaccine mandates and bills like this one that would stop companies and schools from requiring vaccinations.

The bill provides exemptions for workplace vaccine mandates for employees who can prove they have COVID antibodies, that they would have an adverse reaction to the vaccine, or file a legitimate religious objection. Not included in the exemptions are those who work in children's hospitals or intensive care units, but the bill does request those workplaces make a "good faith effort" to find another place in the company for unvaccinated employees before letting them go.

It would also bar schools from expelling students for being unvaccinated for any of the same reasons.

The Ohio bill comes as over two dozen Republican-led states have filed lawsuits to challenge a mandate from President Joe Biden which would require companies with over 100 employees to have their employees vaccinated by Jan. 1, 2022.

Several large companies across the country, along with some state and local governments and hospitals have begun mandating vaccinations for their employees. Mandates have been largely successful and led to a relatively small number of firings, along with some who filed for lawsuits and tried to get exemptions approved.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Ohio Vaccine Mandate, Mike DeWine
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks to the crowd during the Solheim Cup Opening Ceremony at Promenade Park on Sept. 03, 2021 in Toledo, Ohio. DeWine has publicly stated his opposition to both vaccine mandates, and bills like the one that passed in Ohio's House Thursday that would prevent private companies from requiring vaccinations for their employees or for customers to enter their business. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The legislation was approved by the House on Thursday after the Commerce and Labor Committee voted in favor of it hours earlier.

"Individuals must have the opportunity to have that autonomy for themselves," said Rep. Al Cutrona, a suburban Youngstown Republican who helped shepherd the bill through committee. "More importantly, we want to ensure that people are not losing their jobs or their form of employment."

Earlier this year, Montana banned vaccine requirements for employees.

Thursday's vote was the third time House Republicans pushed the bill's provisions in recent weeks, with House Speaker Bob Cupp previously stopping the legislation, saying there wasn't enough agreement.

But before it passed Thursday, Commerce and Labor Chairman Dick Stein said he expected the full House to approve the bill. The Republican from Norwalk in northern Ohio said the legislation was about personal choice and individual freedom.

"Mandating through any source, whether it's federal or state, will never create compliance," said Stein, who said he's fully vaccinated. "We need to do this through education and free will and personal choice between physicians and their families and the communities they live in."

Democrats called the bill an anti-business bill that endangered worker safety.

The legislation is "bad public policy that undermines public health, trust in science and the vaccine, and puts the lives of Ohioans at risk, all for the sake of a vocal minority who represents a very extreme view on this COVID-19 virus," said Rep. Allison Russo, a suburban Columbus Democrat and a health care policy consultant.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from about 3,484 new cases per day on Nov. 2 to about 4,948 new cases per day on Nov. 16, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Whether the bill will become law remains uncertain. All major business and health groups previously opposed the legislation, and on Thursday, the Ohio Manufacturers' Association called the new bill "an unnecessary invasion of employer rights."