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Opponents of vaccine and medical treatment mandates clear hurdle for proposed ballot issue

Steven Werling.jfif
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Steven Werling, a petitioner for the "Medical Right to Refuse" amendment, appears at an Ohio Ballot Board meeting on July 5, 2022.

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that guarantees an individual’s right to refuse medical procedures, treatments, and vaccines are one step closer to putting their issue on the ballot.

The issue went before the Ohio Ballot Board during a meeting Tuesday. The role of the board was to determine if the proposal, known as "Medical Right to Refuse," was one amendment to the constitution or whether it should be separated into two or more parts.

The language could make it illegal for businesses or governments to make policy decisions that negatively impact people who refuse the treatments and procedures listed in the proposal.

Pavan Parikh, ballot board member and Hamilton County clerk of courts, raised questions about how the initiative would apply to certain circumstances such as hospital ethics boards as they make decisions about patients and the bureau of motor vehicles requiring glasses or corrective lenses to permit a drivers’ license.

Parikh suggested the scope of the issue, through those scenarios, could mean the amendment expanded beyond a single issue.

However, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, focused the conversation back to the question at hand.

“Were this to end up on the ballot at some point, this would be a great conversation for Ohioans to have to determine whether they wish to vote for it or not but the question here is, does it consist of one issue for the ballot," LaRose said.

The board unanimously certified the proposal as one single amendment. Backers need Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, to certify for the proposed language before they begin collecting the nearly 443,000 valid signatures from half of Ohio's 88 counties needed to put their constitutional amendment on the Ohio ballot.

The road to getting to this point hasn't been easy for supporters of the amendment. It took five tries for the group to get its petition summary approved by Yost. He repeatedly said it was unclear or contradictory. But the group was able to get that language approved on June 24.

Opponents of mandated vaccines have spent the better part of two years fighting against the regulations.

Last fall, hundreds of people showed up at the Ohio Statehouse to support a bill that would have banned Ohio employers and schools from requiring employees and students to get vaccines.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) would also have prevented venues from requiring vaccinations as a condition for entry.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and other business groups opposed the measure. In November, the Ohio House passed another bill that had to do with curfews for bars. Lawmakers attached to it some parts of the bill Gross sponsored. It is now being considered by an Ohio Senate committee.

Things have changed in Ohio since that time. While there are still many cases of COVID-19 present, it's unclear just how many because the state is no longer tracking the coronavirus the same way as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. Many people who test positive for COVID-19 no longer report it, there are more therapeutics available, and the Omicron variant has proven to be milder, especially in fully-vaccinated people.

Supporters of the proposed amendment say they are taking up this effort because the Ohio Legislature did not to pass the bill that would afford Ohioans that guarantees the right to refuse medical treatments without facing some sort of discrimination.

The coalition of businesses, community organizations, and health care professionals have said a ban on vaccine mandates would have negative consequences on public health and infringe on the rights of private business owners.

If petitioners collect enough signatures they could put the issue on the ballot as soon as May 2023.