COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The ability of the Ohio governor to issue public health orders during a pandemic would be restricted under a bill in the Ohio House that is the GOP’s latest effort to rein in the state’s authority.
A House committee reviewed a GOP-backed bill Wednesday that looks to create legislative oversight of emergency orders made by fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health.
The effort is similar to a bill that passed in the Senate last week that would limit public health emergency orders to 90 days, and also give the General Assembly the power to rescind those orders by resolution after 30 days.
It’s the latest in a series of yearlong efforts by GOP lawmakers to curtail DeWine’s pandemic response, including his issuing of a statewide mask mandate, the now-expired curfew and a strict lockdown in the spring.
“We’re going to be taking a look at what the Senate did and why it did it,” House Speaker Bob Cupp said of the bill last week. “We hope to also take a look at some mechanisms in other states.”
Proponents of both the House and Senate bill believe DeWine and the state health department have issued orders during the last 11 months of the pandemic that have remained enacted for longer than necessary and, as a result, have unduly damaged small businesses and the state’s economy.
Opponents of the effort, which include several medical institutions, have called it unconstitutional and warned it would decentralize the state’s response during an emergency and cost lives in the process.
One of those opponents is one of DeWine’s top coronavirus advisers, Dr. Andrew Thomas.
“Substantially changing the way our state is organized to respond to this crisis in the middle of the pandemic is risky and would create unnecessary confusion for the public and the business community, and would further limit the effectiveness of actions taken to date to curb the spread of the virus and limit the loss of life,” Thomas, who is the chief clinical officer at Ohio State University, testified Wednesday.
The medical professional has been a frequent guest at the Ohio Statehouse since the pandemic began, testifying against past efforts to create similar legislation and reiterating his concerns on Wednesday.
During his testimony, Thomas highlighted how the timeline for the House bill that would allow for rescinding emergency orders, days after it is enacted, “is an eternity in terms of this virus.”
“We don’t know yet the impact of that on the course of the pandemic,” Thomas said. “But if the state’s hands are tied, whether actions are at risk of being reflexively reversed the confusion this would cost businesses across the state and the mixed messages it would send to the citizens of our state would be incredibly damaging.”
Last year, DeWine, a Republican, had indicated he would veto any bill that would make it hard for him or the health department to issue emergency orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He made good on that promise in December when a similar Senate bill moved through the House and Senate and landed on his desk.
But DeWine and lawmakers appeared to have made some compromises with the lasted proposal, although the governor said last week that it still does not guarantee he will sign it into law.
“We think it has a way to go and really it’s not so much about me,” DeWine said. “It’s not about me. What we have to make sure we have to get right is how a future governor — not a Mike DeWine — a future governor can react to an emergency.”
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.