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Ohio House advances bill to limit Health Director Dr. Amy Acton's power

Bill now goes to the State Senate for approval
Amy Acton, Mike DeWine mask
Posted at 4:45 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 17:17:39-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Voting along party lines, the Ohio House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill that would make all orders from the Ohio Department of Health effective only for up to 14 days.

House Republicans added an amendment to Senate Bill 1that would require a committee's approval for any order handed down by Ohio DOH Director Dr. Amy Acton to extend longer than two weeks.

With Gov. Mike DeWine's blessing, Acton issued a stay-at-home order in late March in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Last week, DeWine and Acton extended that order through late May.

As of Tuesday, Ohio heath officials had confirmed more than 20,000 cases across the state, with more than 3,800 hospitalizations and more than 1,000 fatalities deemed related to the virus.

House Republicans introduced the amendment after severe backlash against Acton and DeWine's decision to extend the stay-at-home order. Over the last several weeks, statehouses across the country have seen protesters decrying stay-at-home orders and business closures as having extended beyond what is necessary. Some protesters assembled outside Acton's home in Bexley, Ohio, a Columbus suburb.

Speaking for the minority in the House, State Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) said the amendment was rushed through the bill approval process.

"At a time when the legislature should be doing our homework, when we should be considering things thoughtfully, we are rushing things through without regard to public health, or folks that could be impacted," she said. "And that's bad policy, and it's a bad process, and it's the wrong direction."

In a release Wednesday afternoon by Kelly's office, the legislator indicated that the amendment was made "without advance notice or any public testimony and was discharged from committee on a party-line vote."

Other representatives showed their support for the bill, however, including Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster). Wiggam explained the bill will help make sure the Ohio legislature plays a role in decision-making amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you support increased government transparency, if you believe in legislative oversight, you should support substitute Senate Bill 1 … This bill ensures that the Ohio legislative body will not be effectively made mute and impotent during times of crisis. This gives a voice to the people of Ohio, a voice to the very citizens we represent.”

Senate Bill 1 was introduced 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. The House amendment specifies that all orders issued by Acton after April 29, 2020 would be limited to the two-week term, pending committee review.

The amended bill was sent back to the Senate Wednesday afternoon for final approval. If Gov. Mike DeWine were to veto the bill, Wednesday’s “yes” votes would not be enough to override his decision.