COLUMBUS — The Ohio House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that would spare workers and students from vaccine mandates and “vaccine passports.”

House Bill 218 (HB 218) — known by supporters as the Ohio Medical Freedom Plan — passed the House 58-32, largely along party lines with Republicans supplying all the yes votes and Democrats all but a couple of the no votes. HB 218 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The area’s three representatives in the House — Derek Merrin of Maumee (47th District), Jim Hoops of Napoleon (81st District) and Craig Riedel of Defiance (82nd District) — were among the Republicans who supported it.

“House Bill 218 is a thorough and comprehensive bill that protects the rights of Ohioans,” stated Riedel. “In our communities and across the state, the message was clear: Ohioans want a clear, balanced and unambiguous plan on this important and deeply personal issue.”

The bill ensures most Ohioans would be empowered to refuse mandated COVID-19 vaccinations by claiming an exemption for medical reasons, natural immunity as demonstrated by the presence of COVID-19 antibodies and reasons of personal conscience, including religious convictions.

Those same exemptions would also be available for students and employees at Ohio’s public and private schools, colleges and universities. A written statement claiming the exemption is all that would be required for students and employees to receive the exemption. The bill also allows for a student or employee to seek relief in the event of a violation, including going to court or filing an employment discrimination claim.

Additionally, the bill bans “vaccine passport” requirements from being imposed for entry into a public building or private business.

“I believe no one should be forced to be vaccinated no matter what type of inoculation,” added Riedel. “It should always be a personal choice. HB 218 protects individual freedom when it comes to COVID-19. The vast majority of Ohioans have asked for this freedom and today the Republican Caucus in the Ohio House of Representatives delivered for Ohio.”

The bill also prohibits public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities from discriminating against a student based on their vaccination status while in a school setting or on school property.

Other elements of the bill include:

• Employees of a children’s hospital, an intensive care or critical care unit of a hospital, would not be able to receive a vaccine exemption, under the bill. However, a hospital must make a good faith attempt to provide equitable employment to an individual who refuses to get a vaccine.

• Schools and employers would be prohibited from requiring a student or employee to receive a vaccine if it has not been issued a biologics license or otherwise been granted full approval by the FDA.

• Extends through June 2023 provisions from House Bill 606 (133rd General Assembly) that would protect employers from COVID-19 liability under certain circumstances.

• Other provisions sunset on Sept. 30, 2025.

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