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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

2021 Year In Review: Vaccine mandate bans among high-profile Ohio bills that didn't pass

 2021 Ohio year in review graphic [Daniel Konik /  Statehouse News Bureau]
2021 Ohio year in review graphic

State lawmakers stayed busy this year with a variety of issues at the Statehouse. Legislators passed the budget, changed school funding, and limited the governor's powers in states of emergency. But there was just as much attention paid to the many bills that didn't pass.

What should Ohio do about vaccine mandates? That was the question Republican lawmakers fixated on for several months in 2021.

The issue ranged from limiting mandates for the COVID-19 shot to a sweeping ban on any mandate for any vaccine, including childhood inoculations like measles and polio. Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) sponsored that bill, HB248.

"I'm not anti-vaccination, but nothing's 100%. So if you believe a vaccine works for you, get the vaccine. But that's your freedom to choose," said Gross.

While that received vocal support and even more opposition, Republican lawmakers seemed stuck on the issue.

A bill to grant broad exemptions to only COVID-19 vaccine mandates eventually became the vehicle to pass out of the House but it now sits in the Senate with an uncertain future.

As expected, bills dealing with guns made the rounds in 2021. But while Gov. Mike DeWine's (R-Ohio) legislative priority to expand gun regulations didn't go anywhere, other bills to expand the ability to carry firearms saw momentum.

Rep. Thomas Hall's (R-Madison Twp.) bill, HB99, allows teachers to be armed in schools with lower training requirements. And bills to remove the requirement for training and a license to carry a concealed firearm are seeing movement, much to the dismay of gun control groups, law enforcement, and Democrats like Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati).

"This bill is a good example of fixing a problem that does not exist while at the same time making other problems much worse," said Thomas.

Chaos erupted on the House floor in June when Democrats tried to block Republicans from attaching an anti-transgender amendment to the popular college athlete compensation bill.

The amendment would ban transgender women from participating in high school and college women’s sports. That bill didn't pass and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) had a message to transgender kids during the floor debate.

"We will stand with you in spite of this awful, disgusting, vile amendment that made it into this bill," Sykes said.

Some Republican lawmakers tried to get rid of Step Up To Quality, the accountability program used to determine which child care facilities get state assistance. While that did pass as an amendment, DeWine vetoed that line in HB169.

Lawmakers also worked on criminal justice reform and provisions that would place harsher penalties on protesting.

While several elements of the scandal-tainted energy law HB6 were reversed -- such as the nuclear bailout portion -- other provisions remained in place. Lawmakers tried to repeal the subsidies for coal plants and revive the renewable energy standards, but those didn't pass.

Still on the table is pot legalization. Bills from Republicans and Democrats would legalize marijuana for personal use.

And though it faces opposition from a segment of the GOP House and Senate, Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) contends that the stigma around pot needs to be shed.

"There's some real strong arguments that we're in a different time now than we were, we know a lot more and quite frankly society is in a different place than it was 20 years ago," Callender said.

A citizens initiative to put the issue on the ballot is circulating, and that could compel lawmakers to act on legalizing pot in 2022.

There's still a year left in the current Ohio General Assembly session which means all these bills have more time to possibly make it through the House and Senate and onto Gov. Mike DeWine's desk for a possible signature before the end of next year.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.