Ohio legislation

State lawmakers begin revisiting vaccine exemption bill

State lawmakers this week listened to public testimony for the first time on a fast-tracked bill to limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates and expand exemptions, after the bill failed to get enough support in the Ohio House (Source: “COVID-19 vaccine exemption bill gets another look from Ohio lawmakers,” Akron Beacon-Journal, Oct. 6).

Hearings on Wednesday and Thursday were "informal hearings," said Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, House Commerce and Labor Committee chairman, only to determine "the line between personal freedom and companies' rights... and where that lies."

Republican leadership tried to rush House Bill 435 and pass it out quickly last week, but the speedy timeline resulted in pushback. Legislators are now taking more time to revisit the bill's details.

Ohio House leaders send vaccine bill back to drawing board

The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill supported by its Republican leaders that would allow businesses to mandate coronavirus vaccines, yet would also allow broad exemptions for employees to avoid getting shots (Source: “Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp announces his coronavirus vaccine bill is back to drawing board,” Cleveland.com, Sept. 30).

After it faced opposition from business and medical organizations, Democrats and some Republicans, House Bill 435 was sent back to the Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee, where more work will be done, said Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican.

Under HB 435, as currently written, public and private employees, as well as public and private K-12 and college students could be subject to coronavirus vaccine mandates. However, they could be exempted for medical reasons, for demonstrating natural immunity to the coronavirus and for religious reasons and reasons of conscience. The religious exemption is broad, as it would only require a statement by the believer and not a letter from clergy.

More than half of states have rolled back public health powers, analysis finds

Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, including Ohio, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases (Source: “Over Half of States Have Rolled Back Public Health Powers in Pandemic,” Kaiser Health News, Sept. 15).

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In at least 16 states, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, or quarantines or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or local elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious disease. At least 17 states passed laws banning covid vaccine mandates or passports, or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements. At least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.

DeWine signs bill banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements at public schools, universities

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill this week that will prevent public schools and universities from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff until they receive full approval from federal officials (Source: “Gov. DeWine signs bill to ban requiring COVID-19 vaccine at Ohio public schools, universities,” Columbus Dispatch, July 14).

Language added to House Bill 244 will prevent schools and universities from requiring vaccines that haven't received full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. All three COVID-19 vaccines were approved under emergency use authorization, a rigorous protocol that includes clinical trials. 

The new law doesn't take effect for 90 days, and the vaccines might receive full FDA approval in that window, making the language moot.

"We are confident the three main COVID vaccines – the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – will receive full FDA approval," said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney, adding that the full approval will help reduce vaccine hesitancy.

The bill doesn't apply to private universities or the hospitals connected to public universities. Several private universities and colleges, such as Kenyon College and Ohio Wesleyan University, will require students to be vaccinated. Some have exceptions for religious or medical reasons. 

Ohio Senate considers bill to ease penalties, increase treatment for low-level drug possession

The Ohio Senate is considering landmark legislation that would lessen the penalties for low-level drug possession charges and increase options for addiction treatment instead of criminal convictions (Source: ”Lawmakers may ease penalties, increase treatment for drug possession,” Dayton Daily News, June 24, 2020).

Senate Bill 3 calls for reducing low-level, non-violent drug possession charges to misdemeanors, down from felonies. Drug trafficking offenses would remain felonies. The legislation also calls for allowing judges to put a criminal possession case on hold while the defendant goes through court-ordered treatment and then dismiss the case if treatment is successfully completed.

The bill would also expand circumstances in which someone may apply to have their criminal records sealed. Criminal records often make it more difficult to get hired.

Late last year, HPIO released  "Ohio Addiction Policy Inventory and Scorecard: Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System," the third in a series of inventories and scorecards analyzing Ohio's policy response to the addiction crisis and outlining areas where the state could be more effective. The new report provides policymakers and other stakeholders with the information needed to take stock of Ohio's policy response to addiction within the law enforcement and criminal justice sectors.

Ohio House passes bill strengthening domestic violence law

The Ohio House voted 94-0 last week in favor of making sweeping changes to the state’s domestic violence law to better protect victims from further abuse (Source: “Ohio House moves to strengthen domestic violence law,” Dayton Daily News, May 20, 2020).

Advocates for House Bill 3 say it will establish a better system for identifying when high-risk domestic violence situations could escalate. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Sara Carruthers and Democrat Rep. Janine Boyd, calls for expanding domestic violence to include strangulation of a family or household member; creating a new protection order for domestic violence victims that law enforcement can request when courts are closed; requiring police departments to connect high-risk victims to help programs and use lethality assessment screening tools; requesting the supreme court review evidence rules to consider changes that may help victims; and increasing police officer training in intervention techniques.

According to data from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, there were 38,475 domestic violence incidents last year in Ohio.

Study: Ohio law change leads to dramatic increase in naloxone access

The number of prescriptions to a life-saving overdose reversal medication grew in Ohio grew by 2,328% following a state law change in 2015 (Source: “Ohio law dramatically increases access to overdose reversal meds,” Dayton Daily News, Feb. 4, 2020).

The Ohio law was changed to help reduce the number of overdoses in the state by allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone without patients first going to a doctor for a prescription. After the change, University of Cincinnati researchers found dramatically higher naloxone dispensing at Ohio pharmacies.

“Our study shows that this change in the Ohio law allowed pharmacists to have more opportunity to participate in the management of patients addicted to opioids,” study’s lead faculty researcher Pam Heaton, a professor of pharmacy practice at UC’s Winkle College, said in a statement.

In order to provide policymakers and other stakeholders with the information needed to take stock of Ohio's policy response to addiction, HPIO released a policy scorecard on overdose reversal and other forms of harm reduction. The scorecard is part of HPIO’s Addiction Evidence Project.

A.G. Yost proposes constitutional amendment on potential opioid settlement

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office has distributed a proposed state constitutional amendment, which voters would need to approve, to ensure a large part of the money obtained through a swath of opioid lawsuits would go toward treating addiction and its corresponding problems  (Source: “AG Dave Yost’s office’s new plan to divvy up potential opioid money met with skepticism from Gov. Mike DeWine,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 5, 2019).

The proposed amendment, referred to in a memo written Monday as the “All Ohio” plan, would pool money obtained through any mass settlements and provide strict guidelines on how it could be used. It would create a nonprofit “Ohio State and Local Government Opioid Crisis Recovery Foundation” to distribute settlement money among 19 regions around the state. A portion of the money would be invested.

However, the proposal is far from a sure thing. The odds of it making the ballot for an election in March, the next one scheduled, are slim, as Gov. Mike DeWine is skeptical about the timing of the proposal.

The measure also caught off-guard a team of lawyers representing cities and counties, who have been in talks with the attorney general’s office since October on how to deal with potential settlement money.

DeWine feels the measure is “premature" because the talks on how to divvy up any potential money from opioid manufacturers and distributors continue, spokesman Dan Tierney said.

Ohio bill aims to free psychiatric beds for potentially violent patients

Ohio is taking steps to change how the 1,100 beds in the six state-owned psychiatric hospitals are filled — in part to assure there is room available for those threatening gun violence (Source: “Ohio lawmakers look to free up state psychiatric beds,” Dayton Daily News, Oct. 23, 2019).

The Ohio Senate voted 30-1 in favor of Senate Bill 58, which is included in Gov. Mike DeWine’s 17-point plan to address gun violence.

Currently, a large portion of the high-security beds are occupied by people facing non-violent misdemeanor criminal charges who need to be restored to mental competency. The DeWine administration wants to give courts the ability to send non-violent defendants to step-down facilities for treatment when appropriate, leaving the secure beds for violent patients.

The bill now moves to the Ohio House for consideration.

Ohio House passes bipartisan bill to combat infant mortality

With an eye on decreasing the state’s high infant mortality rate, the Ohio House passed a bipartisan bill Thursday that would expand smoking cessation, dental visits and health and lead education (Source: “Ohio House approves spending $11 million to reduce infant mortality, preterm births,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 2019).

House Bill 11, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville, and Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat, passed unanimously. It now heads to the Senate.

HB 11, if passed, would have four components:

  • Require Ohio Medicaid, Medicaid managed care organizations and state employee insurance plans to cover federally recognized tobacco cessation medications and services.
  • Provide $6 million to the Ohio Department of Health to give grants to health care facilities, medical practices and others to begin programs that encourage early prenatal care.
  • Provide $5 million for pregnant Medicaid recipients to receive twice-a-year dental visits.
  • Require the Ohio Department of Health to develop educational materials on lead-based paint and distribute them to people who live in homes built before 1979 and to families who participate in the state’s Help Me Grow Program.