The Ohio House Health Committee returned early from summer recess last week to hear hours of testimony on a measure barring employers and others from mandating vaccines.
The measure (House Bill 248) drew significant attention during extended spring legislative hearings, with some proponents garnering national notoriety for unfounded claims about vaccines while opponents warned of the threat it posed to the health care system and the rights of businesses.
Chairman Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) said he urged House leadership to let the committee come back early to hear more testimony on the bill, setting it up for possible amendments next month. He said the committee is not trying to stall on the measure.
“If we were stalling, we’d be back here September 14,” he said. “This was our attempt not to stall. This was our attempt to get these voices of Ohioans out.”
A statement from House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and the Republican leadership indicated the plan is to pause hearings after this one.
“This legislation is important to many members of this caucus,” the speaker said. “Due to the high interest in the bill, we have directed Chairman Lipps to have one hearing, which will take place on Tuesday, August 24, with no amendments or votes. We will then pause hearings on HB248 while we work with the chairman, the bill’s sponsor, and all interested parties on this important issue.”
Chairman Lipps said when the committee returns in September, it will have more guidance from leadership.
“The information gathered today is going to leadership,” he said. “Leadership will be polling members of the House on where they stand on the bill today and where they will stand if particular amendments are added.”
The committee heard extensive testimony in a hearing that lasted several hours and included discussions of topics from employment law to Catholic theology. More than 1,000 people submitted testimony, Rep. Lipps said.
Questions from committee members were generally more limited than they had been at past hearings on the bill, with Rep. Lipps encouraging members to limit their queries to those of clarification.
Backers included individuals who shared stories of their personal experiences with vaccines, along with those who said mandates would inhibit their individual freedom.
Opponents, meanwhile, included medical experts and business groups, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce whose testimony said businesses that are barred from requiring the vaccine for workers will likely have to reinstate disruptive safety precautions, such as mandatory masks, frequent testing, social distancing, reduced capacity events and remote work and that protections already exist for employees who want exemptions.
OIA will keep members apprised on this legislation and any other legislation that may impact insurance agency operations. Notably, the time during which businesses are provided qualified immunity from liability related to COVID-19 exposure expires on Sept. 30, 2020. OIA continues to work with others in the business community to extend this timeframe.