DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN)– State lawmakers listened to public testimony for the first time Wednesday about House Bill 435, which will limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates and expand exemptions.

Lawmakers said the hearing’s purpose was to determine “the line between personal freedom and companies’ rights… and where that lies.” However, local health leaders say lawmakers are getting dangerously close to that line.

“One of the ironic pieces of this legislation is that so many of our legislators have talked about is having less government and smaller government, but now we’re actually adding government into places where businesses and local governments are trying to exist,” said CCHD Health Commissioner Charles Patterson.

Patterson says he is not in favor of House Bill 435, but argues lawmakers should not be involved. Instead, allow communities to make their own choices.

“While we’re not necessarily in favor of vaccine mandates, we want to make sure if a local business wants to require it or the local government requires it for their employees, they should have the right to do that,” said Patterson. “They don’t need to take action on this, if we want less government then we need less government intervention.”

The bill would expand exemptions that Ohioans may cite – if private businesses, schools, universities, local governments, or others require coronavirus vaccination as a condition of employment, attendance, or building access – to include having natural immunity based on coronavirus antibodies in the blood and reasons of conscience.

The bill was meant to appease business and hospital groups who want to protect their ability to mandate the shot, as well as advocates for “medical freedom” who argue vaccination should not be imposed at all. Neither side liked the bill. But, those working in intensive care units, children’s hospitals or hired after the bill becomes law can’t be exempt. 

Montgomery County & Dayton Public Health PIO Dan Suffoletto says allowing more exemptions isn’t a good idea.

“In terms of all vaccines, certainly sometimes there is legitimately medical reasons for not getting a particular vaccine but barring any reasons that it’s going to harm a person, exemptions should really be few and far between,” said Suffoletto.

Legislators listened to 14 hours of testimony Wednesday and even more will continue into Thursday.