Health officials ring alarm as GOP prepares to override veto

Posted at 12:31 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 12:31:36-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Multiple Ohio local health departments are sounding the alarm about legislation restricting their ability to respond to emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency heads laid out their concerns in letters to Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday, documenting how the bill would slow down, or block, local officials from ordering businesses to close or requiring residents to quarantine or isolate without a medical diagnosis.

“Board of health orders are crucial tools to mitigate a situation, allowing time for a full investigation of a situation before it becomes urgent or worsens,” Franklin County health officials wrote. “Orders like these are utilized sparingly and almost always involve guidance and expertise from the CDC or the Ohio Department of Health.”

The department and several other public health agencies oppose plans by House and Senate Republicans to override the bill Wednesday, and asked lawmakers not to do so.

GOP lawmakers have pledged to override the bill regardless, the first override for the Republican governor since taking office in 2019.

“It is now up to the legislature to protect their constituents’ constitutional freedoms with a veto override,” GOP Rep. Scott Wiggam, a supporter of the bill, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Senate bill in question would allow state lawmakers to rescind public health orders issued by the governor or the Ohio Department of Health as soon as they take effect, as well as prevent the governor from reintroducing similar orders for at least 60 days.

The bill would also limit state of emergency orders to a period of 90 days but allow lawmakers to extend them in 60-day increments indefinitely.

DeWine has warned the bill would also ripple the state’s ability to address an emerging public health crisis and open up local health departments to lawsuits by anyone who disagrees with their enforcement actions.

Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.