Ohio lawmaker says she was kicked off House Health Committee as her bill stalls, new ones form
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WXIX) - Controversial legislation proposed by a state lawmaker from Greater Cincinnati to prevent businesses and schools from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine has stalled and now she says she was kicked off Ohio’s House Health Committee.
State Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, tells FOX19 NOW House Leader Bob Cupp, R-Lima, alerted her in a phone call Monday.
“Yes, it’s true. I will confirm. He called me at 4 p.m. yesterday and said that he and all leadership agreed that I should be removed from the Health Committee. I don’t know how you found out. I have been sitting with this since yesterday and wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it.”
FOX19 NOW reached out to Speaker Cupp who responded: “I do not comment on internal caucus communications,”
Rep. Gross said Speaker Cupp told her she was off the committee because she recently brought forth a “discharge petition” to remove House Bill 248 from the health committee in an effort to try to take it directly to the House floor for a vote and because there was so much opposition to the measure.
Ohio healthcare providers sent a letter to lawmakers cautioning House Bill 248 would “destroy our current public health framework” and has the “potential to reverse decades of immunity from life-threatening, but vaccine-preventable diseases” such as measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis, and tuberculosis.”
The group, which includes the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Ohio Association of Child Care Providers, also point out in their letter that Ohio law already allows for school immunization exemptions for medical, religious, or philosophical reasons. “Most businesses allow for flexibility in regard to vaccinations,” they said.
Gov. Mike DeWine opposes the bill.
“I think its important for us to remember what great strides have been made, how our lives have been changed by vaccines,” he said in June.
Gross is the main sponsor of the “Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act.”
Two other local lawmakers, State Reps. Tom Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout) and Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason), co-sponsored the proposal.
But last month, Cupp and “the House Majority Leadership” issued a statement indicating they were going to “pause” House Bill 248 and work on the topic.
“We appreciate the continued hard work of the members of the Health Committee on House Bill 248. This legislation is important to many members of this caucus,” Cupp said.
“Due to the high interest in the bill, we have directed Chairman Lipps to have one hearing, which will take place on Tuesday, August 24, with no amendments or votes. We will then pause hearings on HB 248 while we work with the chairman, the bill’s sponsor, and all interested parties on this important issue.”
The discharge petition effort requires 50 signatures so the bill can be brought to the House floor for a vote.
Gross said she was prompted to act when President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring employers of more than 100 people to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for their workers.
“It is now time for the Ohio Legislature to take action on HB 248. I hope to see signatures and support from my fellow House Members,” Gross said in a news release Sept. 10. “The decision to receive any vaccine should be a personal choice. It is our duty to protect the freedoms of Ohioans and the time to act is now!”
On Tuesday, Gross said is confused and feels betrayed by her own colleagues and fellow Republicans. She is a nurse practitioner, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and combat veteran.
“I am the only health care provider on the health committee in the Republican Caucus. I felt that it would be a loss to our health committee and (Cupp) said ‘Your actions have consequences.”
She said she was confused because she was speaking for and acting on behalf of the people of Ohio.
“The message is: ‘If you stand, you will get punished. This is hard. It is hard. I was supporting the people. I am not attacking my party and I think there is a difference. I thought you could do both.
“My impression was that my activities surrounding H.B. 248 and the support that H.B. 248 had are the reason I was removed. Honestly, to me, freedom is on trial. It’s just me standing for freedom and for people to retain and keep their freedom. I’m not saying COVID isn’t real. It is real. I have two friends right now on ventilators. Covid is real. But freedom is real, too, and if I have to choose between COVID and freedom, I choose freedom.”
Her proposed legislation drew national headlines recently after a known conspiracy theorist who has spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, a licensed physician in Ohio and author of “Saying No to Vaccines,” testified about the bill during the June 8 House Health Committee meeting.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures all over the internet of people who have had these shots and now they’re magnetized,” Tenpenny said back in June. “You can put a key on their forehead, it sticks. You can put spoons and forks all over and they can stick because now we think there is a metal piece to that.”
That prompted State Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) to caution House Bill 248 is “complete craziness.”
On Tuesday, Gross declined to comment on Tenpenny’s testimony.
“I had no idea those things would come out,” she said. “I don’t agree and I don’t believe in it. That was the media running with stuff that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.”
Her proposed anti-vaccine legislation came amid debate over the choice to vaccinate as local, state and national officials try to increase vaccination rates amid surging COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant.
Meanwhile, a lawmaker from the Dayton area, Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, introduced somewhat similar legislation, House Bill 424.
If passed into law, House Bill 424 would prevent government required COVID-19 vaccinations, but would not stop Ohio businesses from imposing them.
Another bill is coming this week from House leadership, one that will prevent both public and private businesses from requiring the covid-19 vaccine, says State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township.
“We have a good bill in the works that all six of us in the House are working on,” Seitz tells FOX19 NOW. ”We are just about to unveil it. We are hoping this week.”
Seitz said he thinks Koehler’s bill is too narrow in just limiting government employers and Gross’ was overly broad because it applied to all vaccines and gave everyone the ability to be exempt
He cut off our interview, saying he was scheduled to get on a conference call with the House Speaker and others including representatives of the hospital association and chambers of commerce.
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