Republican, Democratic lawmakers alike call for Kasich to declare state of emergency over heroin

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Ohio can agree on one thing: They want Gov. John Kasich to declare a state of emergency over the state's heroin and pain pill epidemic. 

But Kasich says his hands are tied. 

An Ohio House resolution introduced last week by Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, is calling on the governor to declare a “public health emergency” to direct emergency funds to local services fighting heroin overdoses throughout the state.

WCPO's Editorial Board was the first to call for Kasich to declare a state of emergency over the epidemic. 

Support for the resolution is bipartisan: While it comes mostly from Democrats, House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, the second highest-ranking Republican House legislator, and two other Republican lawmakers support the resolution.

“This is not a new situation," Driehaus said. "We’ve been talking with the governor about this like it’s an emergency. Let’s act like it." 

There isn’t a specific law that allows Kasich to declare a state of emergency in this situation, and if there were such a law, there isn’t any funding that could be made available at the local level, said Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach.

“There’s a misconception out there that the governor has the authority to declare a state of emergency,” Kalmbach said. “Nobody has been able to point to the law and say, ‘Here it is, this is where he’s able to and this is the result.’”

The WCPO Editorial Board has argued Kasich can declare a “public health emergency” under specific revisions in Ohio Revised Code, and that the more than $2 billion in Ohio’s Rainy Day Fund could be used as funding to combat southwestern Ohio’s heroin epidemic.

Kasich has been working to combat the situation even though a state of emergency hasn't been declared, Kalmbach said.

She said he has: 

  • Created new guidelines for painkiller subscribers 
  • Allocated nearly $1 billion toward fighting the heroin epidemic in Fiscal Year 2016 
  • Launched the "Start Talking!" program, which gives parents, teachers and community members tools to begin conversations about drug addiction 

This makes clear the issue is a priority for Kasich, Kalmbach said. 

The House Health and Aging committee is currently considering the resolution. 

Liam Niemeyer is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at liamnmeyer@gmail.com.

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