COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate passed a bill this week that would limit the length of Gov. Mike DeWine’s health orders and establish a legislative committee to oversee the state’s health orders.
Senate Bill 22, which passed with a vote of 25-8 on Wednesday, would establish a bipartisan legislative committee that would have the power to rescind the governor’s or state health department orders and prevent them from being reissued for 30 days. Additionally, the governor’s emergency declarations could last for only 90 days.
The bill passed on strict party lines, with every Republican voting yes and every Democrat voting no.
Proponents of the legislation, like bill sponsor Sen. Rob McColley, argued the bill would create reasonable limits on the executive branch and restore checks and balances to Ohio’s government.
“Let me be clear at the outset what this bill does not do," McColley said. "There is nothing in this bill that prohibits the governor or the director of the department of health or any other agency from issuing any emergency order. What it does do is, as I stated before, it establishes checks and balances to restore the natural separation of powers that is necessary for a good, functioning government."
DeWine made his opposition to the legislation clear at a press conference Tuesday, where he said that he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk.
“It is, in my opinion, not constitutional," DeWine said. "So I think it would just be a grave, grave mistake and I’ve made it very clear to my friends in the legislature that if this bill would be passed, I would have no choice as governor of the state but to veto it."
Three-fifths of the Ohio House and Senate are required to override a governor’s veto. SB 22 passed with more than the number of votes required to overcome a veto, and the House is likely to have the votes as well, McColley said.
A similar bill, HB 90, was recently proposed in the Republican-led House.
At a lengthy committee meeting last week, Ohio Health Department Director Bruce Vanderhoff testified against SB 22 before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform committee. His concerns, shared by other medical professionals at the hearing, are that the bill would hamper the state’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to public health crises.
“We’re asking today for this committee and the legislature to oppose this bill, because it leaves a gaping hole in our toolbox, hampering the state’s ability to respond quickly during emergencies when lives may be at stake,” Vanderhoff said at the Feb. 10 committee meeting.
At times, the committee meetings had to move into overflow rooms because of the amount of witnesses that came to Columbus to speak for or against the bill. Over 300 proponents of the bill submitted testimony during the committee meetings.
Nathan Hart is a Statehouse News Bureau fellow who works in Columbus to tell stories that affect people here in Cincinnati. He also attends Gov. Mike DeWine's press briefings. If you have a question you would like Hart to ask DeWine, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Statehouse News Bureau Fellowship program is designed to give Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism students hands-on experience and at the same time increase coverage of the statehouse. The program is funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation and other sources.