To our friends, clients and colleagues in local and regional government, local and higher education, and the nonprofit sector, welcome to our latest Monday Message from the Public Law Group at McDonald Hopkins. In today’s email, assembled by attorneys Teresa Metcalf Beasley, Dave Gunning, Amy Wojnarwsky and Kevin Butler, you’ll find insights into areas of law we’re watching on your behalf.
In today’s edition:
- Employers, service providers, governments take note: Push begins in Columbus to prevent vaccine mandates
- Higher-ed reform measure has MH’s Gunning concerned for four-year schools
- MH’s Wojnarwsky featured in forum on UN sustainable development goals
- Upcoming MH events and webinars
Employers, service providers, governments and nonprofits take note: Push begins in Columbus to prevent vaccine mandates
We’re watching a new bill introduced in the General Assembly, H.B. 248, which if enacted would protect individuals who decline vaccinations from being denied services or access to locations or events in Ohio – and which could impact the rights of all public-facing businesses, employers, schools and governments in the state.
Dubbed the Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act and aimed chiefly at undermining so-called “vaccine passports,” the far-reaching bill would prevent businesses, political subdivisions, school districts and state government entities from “discriminat[ing] against, deny[ing] service or access to, segregat[ing], requir[ing] a facial covering or other vaccination status label for, or otherwise penaliz[ing] an individual financially or socially for declining a vaccination.” Under the measure, those seeking to enforce any vaccination requirement in the state would be obligated to notify individuals in writing of their right to decline a vaccination for any of the following reasons: medical contraindications, natural immunity, or “reasons of conscience, including religious convictions.” Individuals may decline a vaccination on any of those grounds without presenting any further evidence in support.
H.B. 248 was introduced by a number of members of the House who have pushed back against Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health’s social distancing mandates and public health measures. Introduced in April 2021, the bill has been referred to committee but has had no hearings.
Inoculation requirements and vaccine passports are among the latest flashpoints in the ongoing battle over public health and personal liberties. To stay ahead of the debate and hear from McDonald Hopkins employment attorneys on the trends and best practices as employers grapple with vaccination issues, attend our free one-hour May 19 Public Law in Practice webinar by registering here. (More on this webinar below.)
Higher-ed reform measure has MH’s Gunning concerned for four-year schools
A second measure we’re watching is S.B. 135, which our colleague Dave Gunning (who is also Cleveland State University’s retiring board chair) bluntly says “contains a laundry list of terrible changes to public higher education.” Introduced in March by Sen. Jerry Cirino, Gunning says the bill “has caused a stir in the higher education world due to the breadth and nature of its proposals.”
The centerpiece of the bill involves creating a second-chance voucher program, which would give students who for whatever reason did not complete a degree at a four-year public university up to a 50 percent credit in tuition assistance – with their former school footing most of the bill – to study at a two-year community college or technical school. Gunning says the financial implications for universities, which are already incentivized to ensure students complete courses and graduate under the State Share of Instruction funding formula, could be stark.
The bill also gives students the ability either to opt out of paying non-academic fees or to direct where their fees go. Among the casualties? Division 1 athletics, especially football, which stand to lose the student fees subsidizing those programs. “Even Ohio State football would be affected,” Gunning says, “as more money would be required from that program to support other athletic non-revenue programs.”
The legislation also seeks to codify requirements around free speech on college and university campuses in order to give students the “broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, learn and discuss any issue.” At this time, it is not clear how much of the bill’s language on free speech differs from what already was enacted in S.B. 40 last year. However, of particular concern to faculty is this passage of the bill:
“Although faculty are free in the classroom to discuss subjects within areas of their competence, faculty shall be cautious in expressing personal views in the classroom and shall be careful not to introduce matters that have no relationship to the subject taught, and especially matters in which they have no special competence or training and in which, therefore, faculty’s views cannot claim the authority accorded statements they make about subjects within areas of their competence; provided, that no faculty will face adverse employment action for classroom speech, unless it is not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class as broadly construed, and comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction.”
S.B. 135 is still in committee. “Hopefully,” Gunning says, “the legislature will recognize the many terrible provisions of this legislation and either completely rewrite it or kill it.” In any event we will follow the bill and report on its progress here.
MH’s Wojnarwsky featured in forum on UN sustainable development goals
In September 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations adopted a plan for achieving a better future for all, establishing a 15-year strategy to drive business awareness and action in support of achieving sustainable development goals, or SDGs, by 2030. At the center of this initiative was the adoption of the 17 SDGs, which include 169 targets and 247 indicators. While this may sound overwhelming, these SDGs (and their associated targets and indicators) can be grouped into the following six categories: (1) governance & partnerships, (2) sustainable resource use, (3) social and economic development, (4) basic human needs, (5) environmental conditions, and (6) societal values. In order to achieve success in each of these categories, the UN Global Compact asks companies to do business responsibly and to pursue opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration.
On Tuesday, May 11, our colleague Amy Wojnarwsky will join other leaders from Conscious Capitalism Northeast Ohio to lead a discussion titled “Measurements that Matter: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” to provide historical background regarding the development of the SDGs and ways that businesses and communities can embrace opportunities to pursue the SDGs with their stakeholders. For more information and to register, please click here.
Upcoming MH events and webinars
In addition to Amy Wojnarwsky’s contribution to the Conscious Capitalism Northeast Ohio event mentioned above, a series of upcoming online McDonald Hopkins events targeted to those across a broad array of industries may appeal to you.
On Tuesday, May 11 at noon, Teresa Metcalf Beasley will moderate The Art of the Deal: Van Aken District, a panel discussion in conjunction with the commercial real estate networking outfit CREW Cleveland on the genesis and success of Shaker Heights’ signature development. The panelists will discuss the players, their roles and how they overcame obstacles to create a vibrant neighborhood in the city. Register here.
On Wednesday, May 19 at noon, we begin the first in our Public Law in Practice series of free webinars that explore topics of interest to the readers of the Monday Message, some offering continuing education credit. In this first installment, Kevin Butler will lead a panel of MH employment attorneys discussing employer vaccination plans and protocols in the government, education and nonprofit sphere. Is mandatory employee vaccination necessary for a successful, fully integrated reopening? Is mandatory vaccination lawful? Register here. Application for 1.0 hour of CLE credit is pending.
Stay tuned for our second installment of Public Law in Practice, a June 9 lunchtime webinar on shoreline erosion control special improvement districts.
Feel free to contact any member of the McDonald Hopkins Public Law team if you have questions or need assistance on any of the matters we’ve covered above or with your legal needs in general.
Teresa Metcalf Beasley
Chair, Public Law