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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.

Ohioans might get a chance to vote on vaccine requirements

 Vaccines on an American flag [somkanae sawatdinak / Shutterstock]
Vaccines on an American flag

Ohio lawmakers have been considering legislation that would prevent employers, businesses, and the government from discriminating against people who haven’t received COVID vaccines. But now one group says if lawmakers don’t act soon, they’ll try to put it out for Ohio voters to decide.

Stephanie Stock is the president of a group called Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom. And she’s among those who filed a petition with the Attorney General to start a process that could put an issue on next fall’s ballot to allow Ohioans to decide whether people who are unvaccinated for COVID or against other illnesses can be fired or discriminated against.

“Since the legislature is not giving them the protections they need, we decided we need to let the people decide,” Stock says.

Stock says the legislation is needed to protect the freedom of all Ohioans, especially those with low incomes who might not have the clout to fight mandates.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Ohioans right now that are faced with the decision to either take a medical product against their wishes or violate religious beliefs in order to put food on the table or provide Christmas gifts this year," Stock says.

Ohioans protest for passage of a bill to halt vaccine requirements by employers and others. [Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau]

Diana Smith, a health care worker from the Dayton area, is also named on the petition. “I have always been taught I can't complain about a problem if I don’t try to fix it. After 7 months of HB248 being stuck in committee and being told DeWine would veto the bill even if it passed, I knew I had to do something. I thought why can’t ‘We the People’ just vote on it?" Smith says.

Stock says lawmakers would have four months to pass a bill making it illegal for employers, businesses, or governments to demand vaccines of any kind. But she says K-12 schools would still be allowed to require students to have the vaccines currently required with the exemptions currently offered.

Stock says she thinks the issue will win if it goes to a statewide vote. But if it does go before voters next fall, hospitals and major groups representing doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are likely to oppose it. The issue will likely also face stiff opposition from organizations representing Ohio's businesses. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been outspoken on the issue saying the government shouldn't tell businesses how to operate.

Ohio vaccination numbers as of Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. [Ohio Department of Health]

Right now, nearly 57% of Ohioans who are eligible for COVID shots have been fully vaccinated.

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