DeWine: Bill seeking to limit Acton's power is 'wrong'

Posted at 5:59 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 17:59:26-04

If the bill seeking to limit Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton’s power makes its way to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk, he’ll veto it, he said Thursday afternoon.

DeWine described the legislation, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives with only Republican votes Wednesday, as misguided and impossible to implement from a legal perspective.

“I just think it’s wrong,” he said. “I just think it is wrong, and it’s not very productive.”

Senate Bill 1 started its life in 2019 as a measure that would require state government agencies to reduce the number of regulatory restrictions it imposes by at least 30% by 2022. House Republicans later added the amendment at the heart of the controversy — one that would make all orders from the Ohio Department of Health effective only for up to 14 days unless approved by a committee. According to the Toledo Blade, each order would have to get three “yes” votes from all 10 members of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review to extend.

The legislation emerged from dissatisfaction among DeWine’s fellow Republicans, many of whom were upset by his and Acton’s decision to issue a new stay-at-home order effective through the end of May. The Blade reported that Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) accused the pair of silencing the state legislature during the COVID-19 crisis.

DeWine objected, arguing that the nature of the crisis necessitated quick action.

“The actions that we have taken under this (stay-at-home) law have been highly successful,” he said. “Highly successful. We’re in the position now where we can open up Ohio only because we took those actions.”

He added that the bill, although targeted specifically at Acton and the COVID-19 pandemic, would have far-reaching effects on the government’s ability to efficiently address future crises. The department would need JCARR approval to deal with E. coli contamination at a restaurant or keep a medical office accused of malpractice shut down.

“This bill also is not workable even if you would support the bill,” he said. “It would say that anybody in the state of Ohio could file a suit (objecting to an order). It gives no standard for the court, really, to follow. Anybody could file a suit, and we could be in any court, and we would have courts deciding these health issues, and we could have dueling courts at the same time. And if we issue orders to reopen, if somebody doesn’t like that, they can take that to court as well.

“Under this bill, if it became law, it would be nothing but chaos.”

The bill is unlikely to require DeWine's veto, however — it's not likely to pass the Senate.