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Statehouse bill aims to stop Vax-A-Million lottery

Ohio Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, introduced the Taxpayer Protection Against the Frivolous Vaccine Lottery Act last week.
Published By 10TV on June 3, 2021
Jena Powell In The News

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio has two more winners of the Vax-A-Million lottery, but if one state lawmaker has her way, there won’t be anymore.

“We drafted a piece of legislation to stop the current Vax-A-Million program and then ensure from here on out that no one else grossly misuses tax dollars through a Vax-A-Million lottery,” said Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum. “So it ensures that taxpayer funding can’t be spent in that way from this period forward.”

Rep. Powell introduced House Bill 329 on May 25. It is known as the Taxpayer Protection Against the Frivolous Vaccine Lottery Act.
“My district has a loud, resounding voice. This is a frivolous use of taxpayer funding, and that we want to do everything we can to stop the program,” Rep. Powell said. “And so, as a voice of the people, and my district specifically, that is what they feel like, and that’s what I’m continuing fighting for in the legislature.”

Rep. Powell is not the only one to lambast the lottery. And the criticism is coming from both sides of the aisle.

Ohio Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, issued the following statement, in part, after the lottery announcement:

“I was nothing short of stunned to learn of the vaccine lottery. As a member of Controlling Board, to use these federal funds in this manner was neither outlined nor explained in any funding request and, without a doubt, was not expected. While the restrictions implemented last summer unfairly hurt Ohio’s small community businesses by picking winners and losers, this lottery is doing the exact same thing. The Governor should reconsider this decision and immediately rescind the program.”

And House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, who is a Democrat, also had strong words in opposition to Vax-A-Million.

“As elected leaders, we’re obligated to take seriously our duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis. Ohioans deserve better than this. I do hope people continue to get the vaccine and help our state reach herd immunity so our economy and way of life can thrive again.”

House Bill 329 includes an emergency clause that would ensure it would go into effect immediately if passed. But it has yet to be assigned to a committee to get the ball rolling through the legislature.

However, Dan Tierney, press secretary for Gov. Mike DeWine’s office, said Thursday that the governor would veto the bill if the legislation ever makes it to his desk. And the governor himself defended the lottery during his Thursday press conference with the most recent lottery winners.

“I think that we’ve succeeded and got a lot of people vaccinated quicker than they would have,” the governor said. “Many people have been vaccinated who maybe weren’t going to get it at all.” Just after the initial lottery announcement, state health officials reported a 28% spike in COVID-19 vaccinations among those 16 and older. And that was after a 25% drop the previous week for that same age group.

Since then, however, there has been a steady decline in the 7-day moving average for vaccinations.

“Clearly it’s not going up as fast as it was, or we leveled off, where are we, we’re not going to know for a few days,” the governor said Thursday. “But I think it’s already been very, very successful. We’re happy with where it is. As I said before, you know, we saw increases that were beyond any kind of wild, my wildest dreams what we would be able to see.”

Tierney also points to the payoff of the financial investment. He said the dedication of $5.6 million in federal funds, which was allocated for broad coronavirus relief efforts, led to what would have been the equivalent of more than $25 million in ad sales because of the attention the lottery received. He said the investment was not only very effective but also fiscally responsible.

Still, Rep. Powell believes the money could still be spent in better ways, and that also is reflected in her bill.

“We would rather see the money going toward small business relief funds in our state or toward children’s mental health,” she said. “Those are two areas that we feel could be helped very greatly when it comes to funding from the federal government.”

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