Six Ohio lawmakers could override all Gov. Mike DeWine's health orders in latest draft
A handful of Ohio lawmakers would be the only people with the power to reject mask mandates, business closures or statewide curfews under a new version of a bill working its way through the Ohio Senate.
Senate Bill 22, introduced last month, originally let all lawmakers vote to override Gov. Mike DeWine's public health state of emergency orders. That would stay, but the latest draft makes a handful of lawmakers the final arbiters over all other state health orders.
Republican Sen. Rob McColley, one of the bill's two sponsors, said these changes would make the committee stronger and more "nimble in a crisis." Opponents think the Napoleon Republican took a bad idea and managed to make it worse.
Here are his new recommendations:
- The committee would shrink to six people from the 10 he had in January's draft of the bill.
- The entire General Assembly could reject public health state of emergency orders, but only the committee could rescind or amend general pandemic health orders (mask mandates, curfews, etc)
- State of emergency orders would last 90 days if lawmakers did nothing. They could extend these indefinitely in 60-day increments.
- The committee could grant special permission to reinstate rejected orders.
- Clarified that any health order issued by a state agency would be subject to committee review.
And here's what would stay the same:
- Health orders could be rescinded after 10 days.
- Rescinded orders couldn't be re-introduced for 90 days.
- Give the governor and/or agency time to revise their order instead of rejecting it.
- Require the governor to report all actions taken once a state of emergency is declared.
- The Senate President and House Speaker would pick an equal number of committee members; One from the minority party of each chamber and two from the majority.
Aside from the change in committee size and oversight, the next biggest change was letting emergency orders last 90 days.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical director for the Ohio Department of Health, told a Senate committee last week that 30 days "is not a sufficient amount of time for any quarantine or public health order to play itself out."
"I am very concerned that the construct so ties the hands of your public health officials in responding that it will place Ohio lives at risk," he said.
McColley took that into consideration but said the change was "primarily in response to some of the conversations we’ve been having internally with our caucus."
DeWine said passing the bill would be "a grave, grave mistake" and that he would veto the bill just as he's vetoed every bill that tried to curb his executive powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeWine said while infections are dropping, "We are not out of this yet. We cannot declare victory." DeWine expressed concern about virus variants reversing the case decline.
"This is not the time for us to be cutting our authority, the health department’s authority back, in regard to protecting the people of this state," DeWine said.
Technically the Ohio House and Senate have enough Republicans to override those vetoes, but it hasn't happened yet.
Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, told the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau that he wanted a few more changes before he would support SB 22.
He thought the advisory committee was a good idea in theory, but its current configuration "gives all the power to a handpicked committee of six."
"I can't vote for a bill that takes my voice and vote away from me," he said.
Democrats, however, think DeWine's executive powers saved lives this spring and rewriting how those operate before the COVID-19 pandemic is over would be a mistake.
"We got to get through this crisis," Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said. "We need to focus our efforts on getting people vaccinated. Not rush to make all these changes in the fourth quarter."