Here are all the bills that could limit Gov. Mike DeWine and state health department's powers

'Senate Bill 22 jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan'
Ohio's legislature sends heartbeat bill to governor in surprise vote
Posted at 1:05 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 13:31:08-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the past several months, lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly have introduced and sometimes passed a number of bills that would change how the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bills cover a wide range of subjects, from COVID-19 vaccination passports to curfews for bars and restaurants.

Here is a list of every COVID-19 bill that could restrict or modify Ohio’s pandemic response.

Senate Bill 22: State Health Orders
Status: Passed, becomes law in June

Senate Bill 22, originally introduced by Sen. Terry Johnson, a Republican from McDermott, and Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican from Napoleon, would allow the General Assembly to rescind any of the state's health orders from the governor or health department. It would limit the length of the governor’s emergency declarations to 90 days unless the General Assembly extends it. It would create a legislative committee to oversee the state’s public health responses. And finally, it prevents local health departments from isolating or quarantining individuals that are not sick or have not been exposed to someone with an illness.

SB 22 passed the Senate in February and passed the House in March. Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed the bill, saying that it would put Ohioans at greater risk during all future health crises — not just COVID-19.

"Senate Bill 22 jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan,” DeWine said. “It goes well beyond the issues that have occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 22 strikes at the heart of local health departments’ ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face.”

Both the House and the Senate voted to override his veto, meaning the bill passed and will become law in June.

House Speaker Robert Cupp, a Republican from Lima, released a statement praising the bill and the veto override shortly after the House voted to override.

In it, he echoed many of his Republican colleagues by saying the bill is necessary to restore checks and balances.

“Some perspective is important,” Cupp said. “It’s not unusual for the executive and legislative branches of government to have differing perspectives on what is in the public interest. It’s democracy at work.

“In this case, strong majorities in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate passed thoughtful, balanced and constitutional legislation to provide appropriate and measured oversight and to ensure Ohioans’ voices are heard.”

Opponents of the bill and the statehouse’s Legislative Service Commission have both claimed that the bill is potentially unconstitutional. DeWine has not announced any legal action to challenge the bill before it becomes law.

The House had its own version of SB 22, House Bill 90, but that bill has not received any hearings since its introduction.

House Bill 120: Compassionate Care Visits
Status: Passed by the House, awaiting action in the Senate

House Bill 120, introduced by Rep. Mark Fraizer, a Republican from Newark, and Rep. Tracy Richardson, a Republican from Marysville, ends restrictions on compassionate care visits for people in nursing homes. The bill also creates requirements for compassionate care visits, like COVID-19 testing and sanitization.

“The toll, challenges, and difficulties brought on by COVID-19 have been painful for so many Ohioans,” Richardson said in a press release shortly after the bill’s passage. “This bill began with concerns raised by residents within my district who explained the depression, weight loss, decrease in cognitive function, and loss of will to live within long-term care facilities. I also heard from many family members expressing helplessness and a desire to impact the quality of life of their loved ones,”

HB 120 lasts as long as Gov. DeWine’s emergency declaration is in effect or until the end of the year. The state revised its orders on compassionate care visits in January, making it clear that compassionate care visits are always allowed.

House Bill 127: Health Violations
Status: Introduced, referred to committee

House Bill 127, introduced by Rep. Derek Merrin, a Republican from Monclova, would vacate and expunge any violations of COVID-19 health orders. The state department or local board of health would also have to refund any fines they collected from COVID-19 health violations.

Essentially, this bill would remove any record of a business’ violation of COVID-19 orders and prevent state or local departments from fining or punishing businesses for violations. The state could still require businesses to social distance and limit occupancy, but it would be unenforceable.

House Bill 202: Mask Mandates
Status: Introduced, referred to committee

House Bill 202, introduced by Rep. Jena Powell, a Republican from Arcanum, would end the state’s mask mandate and prevent the state from issuing mask mandates during Ohio’s state of emergency. The only way a mask mandate could be passed is if the General Assembly approved it with a concurrent resolution.

“Sixteen states currently do not have a statewide mask mandate," Powell said in an early March press release. "These states are thriving economically, mentally, and emotionally.

“Cases are decreasing dramatically, and vaccine distribution is increasing rapidly. This bill supports individual freedom, and allows Ohioans to make the choice of whether or not they voluntarily want to wear a mask."

House Bill 218: Bar Curfews
Status: Introduced, referred to committee

House Bill 218, introduced by Rep. Al Cutrona, a Republican from Canfield, would prohibit the state from passing any curfews that would limit the hours of a bar. Additionally, any curfews in effect at the time of the law’s passage would not apply to bars.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen countless businesses struggle financially and close their doors,” Cutrona said in a press release. “This legislation will help provide some much needed relief for our bars by providing them with the opportunity to stay open for an extra hour without the worry of health orders or curfews.”

Ohio has not had a curfew since February, when DeWine lifted the curfew as COVID-19 hospitalizations fell.

House Bill 248: Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act
Status: Introduced, referred to committee

House Bill 248, introduced by Rep. Jennfier Gross, a Republican from West Chester, would allow individuals to decline any vaccination that a state or local government requires. A person would be able to decline a vaccination if they already have natural immunity to an illness, if they have religious objections, or if the vaccine could harm them due to pre-existing conditions or illnesses.

All a person would have to do to decline a vaccination is submit a written statement to the appropriate government agency or verbally decline the vaccination.

“This is a matter of freedom," Gross said in a press release. "The purpose of this legislation is to allow people to choose to do what they feel is best for their own body and protect individuals from any consequences or hardships for choosing one way or the other.”

HB 248 would also prevent state or local governments from discriminating against those that decline vaccination by making them wear some sort of label, separating them from vaccinated people, requiring them to wear a face mask, or any other form of discrimination.

House Bill 253: Vaccine Passports
Status: Introduced

House Bill 253, introduced by Rep. Al Cutrona, a Republican from Canfield, would prevent any state or local government or department from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, commonly known as “vaccine passports.” Private businesses would still be allowed to require passports.

HB 253 also establishes the confidentiality of an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status, and prevents agencies from disclosing that information unless approved by the individual.

“Ohioans are encouraged to take the COVID-19 vaccine for the health and well-being of themselves and others,” Cutrona said in a press release. “However, a vaccine should not be mandated or required by our government for our people to integrate back to a sense of normalcy. We’ve had restrictions on our freedoms for over a year and more restrictions or mandates are not the answer to every issue related to COVID-19.”

When asked about vaccine passports in recent weeks, Gov. DeWine has reiterated that he has no plans to require them in the state.

“We don’t have any plan, we have no plan to require a vaccine passport to do things. We don’t have that plan in the government of the state of Ohio. As governor, I don’t have that plan,” DeWine said during an April 1 press conference.