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OCAAUP Weighs in on HB 248

Earlier this summer, the Ohio General Assembly made national headlines for introducing a bill that would ban virtually any vaccine mandates by a public or private entity, including institutions of higher education. The legislation — House Bill 248 — failed to advance at that time; but to the surprise of many, the House Health Committee returned early from summer recess on August 24 to resume hearings on the controversial bill.

At the hearing, Ohio Conference AAUP Secretary Lisa Voigt delivered opponent testimony to the committee. OCAAUP opposes this bill primarily because it would remove the ability for colleges and universities to make decisions in the best interests for the health and well-being of campus communities — decisions which faculty should be involved in making. At a time when faculty are expected to resume face-to-face instruction amidst a pandemic, now is certainly not the time to pull back even further on the public health measures that protect us.

You may recall that HB 244 — which banned institutions from requiring vaccinations that do not have full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — was passed and signed into law in June. However, with the FDA granting full approval for the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, institutions are now in a position to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, but not if HB 248 advances.

Here is a more complete overview of what is included in HB 248:

-Prohibit any of the following institutions from mandating, incentivizing, or “otherwise requesting” their employees, customers or students get vaccinated: A person (defined to include an individual, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, and association); public official or employee; public agency; state agency; political subdivision; school; child day-care center; nursing home; residential care facility; health care provider; insurer; institution (defined to include a nonprofit university, college, academy, or school); employer.

-Prohibit all entities from: (1) mandating, requiring, or otherwise requesting an individual to disclose the individual’s vaccine status or participate in a vaccine passport system, vaccine registry, or other mechanism designed for the purpose of tracking an individual’s vaccine status, (2) disclosing an individual’s vaccination status, and (3) making public an individual’s vaccine status.

-Repeal current Ohio law that requires a college student seeking to reside in on-campus housing to disclose to the college or university whether he or she has been vaccinated against hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis.

-Public schools would have to provide information on vaccine exemptions in the same timing and manner, including text size and font, as it provides notice of the requirements.

-Prohibit certain state and local orders that would violate the provisions of HB 248.

-Authorize an individual to bring a civil action if the individual believes a violation has occurred and requires the court to award a prevailing plaintiff attorney’s fees, compensation for court costs, and any civil penalty the court considers appropriate.

-Prohibit a person, public official or employee, public agency, state agency, political subdivision from discriminating against a business that follows the provisions of HB 248.

After the hearing on August 24, it was reported that Republicans are putting the brakes on this legislation for now. We will keep you updated on this bill and other legislation as the General Assembly ramps up activity this fall.

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