COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine predicted a chaotic future for Ohio in a letter Monday pleading with fellow Republican lawmakers to compromise on a health bill that would handicap the state’s ability to issue any orders during an emergency.
In the five-page letter, the Republican governor laid out what he sees as the perils of the legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate earlier this month and how it will impede the administrative branch’s ability to protect Ohioans, not only during the coronavirus pandemic but also amid weather emergencies, food contaminations, prison riots, or terrorist attacks.
DeWine promised to veto the bill that came to his desk two weeks ago. Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp say the two chambers have enough votes to override the governor’s veto.
In his letter, DeWine also warned members of his party of the onslaught of lawsuits that will flood the state’s courthouses under a provision of the bill that would allow anyone who feels aggrieved by a local or state health order to sue.
“So, at precisely the times that government must act with focus and resolve making immediate, decisive, gut-wrenching, and often unpopular decisions, SB 22 flings the Courthouse doors wide open for immediate judicial intervention,” DeWine wrote. “SB 22 not only allows for this, but encourages it through potentially lucrative attorneys’ fees and damage awards against the State.”
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 into 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 by 90 days but allow lawmakers the ability to extend them indefinitely in 60-day increments.
The legislative action is the latest in a yearlong attempt by GOP lawmakers to rein in DeWine’s authority to issue public health orders during the pandemic.
The letter by the governor is addressed to GOP Rep. Scott Wiggam, of Wooster, who championed the bill to the House floor on March 10, where it passed on party lines. Wiggam praised the bill as bringing checks and balances back to state government after many Republican lawmakers saw DeWine’s pandemic powers to order lockdowns and issue mask mandates as unchecked.
“This body has given the administrative branch of government a lot of power, and it’s time to review that power and it’s time to review it now,” Wiggam said before the bill’s passage.
One of the many examples DeWine highlights in the letter as detrimental to public safety is the part that would restrict the state health department from forcing someone to quarantine unless they’ve been “medically diagnosed” with an illness or have come into contact with someone who has.
This provision would have barred Ohio from enforcing quarantines on two Miami University students who returned to the state from Wuhan, China, in January 2020, potentially leading to an early spread of the virus, DeWine wrote.
Also on Monday, DeWine authorized clinics with unclaimed doses of the coronavirus vaccination to offer them to anyone age 16 or older, beginning immediately.
The state is currently offering vaccines to those 40 and older, with 16 and older scheduled for eligibility on March 29. On a visit to a Youngstown vaccine clinic, DeWine said not all doses are being claimed and any unclaimed doses can be offered to people 16 or older ahead of next week.
The state Health Department says 2.8 million people in Ohio have received at least one dose of the vaccine to date, or about 24% of the population. About 1.6 million people or about 14% of the population have completed the vaccine process.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 1,578 new cases per day on March 6 to 1,508 new cases per day on March 20, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.