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Ohio legislature overrides DeWine veto of pandemic authority bill

Mike DeWine
Posted at 3:38 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 16:12:04-04

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com with some minor edits under a content-sharing agreement.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Less than 24 hours after Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a bill to allow lawmakers to strike down public health orders, GOP supermajorities mobilized to override this veto.

Senate Bill 22 will thereby go into effect three months from now. DeWine has expressed hope that Ohio’s health orders such as the mask mandate will already be removed by then, with COVID-19 cases on the decline and vaccines now eligible for the entire adult population.

If not, lawmakers would have a chance to rescind existing health orders if they wish.

As with the original passage of SB 22, the Wednesday override votes in the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate fell mostly upon party lines. All the votes to override came from Republicans, who have criticized the state response to COVID-19 as being too heavy-handed and not adequately involving the legislature in pandemic decision-making.

The Senate vote was 23-10, with two Republicans joining Democrats in voting no. The House vote was 62-35, with one Republican joining Democrats in voting no.

SB 22 includes a number of provisions targeting the authority of the governor, Ohio Department of Health and local health departments to respond to a public health crisis:

  • Through passing a concurrent resolution, the legislature can rescind public health orders; state of emergency declarations; and any other executive branch order/rule issued in response to an emergency declaration.
  • These orders/declarations can be rescinded as early as the same day they are issued.
  • The executive branch cannot reissue a rescinded order for at least 60 days
  • Limits state of emergency declaration to 30 days, requiring legislature approval to extend it.
  • Limits local boards of health from issuing widespread quarantine orders or any other orders that generally impact schools and businesses.
  • Local boards of health can only issue a quarantine/isolation order to individuals who have been diagnosed with a disease or have come in contact with someone who has.

State Sens. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, are the main sponsors of Senate Bill 22 and both spoke in favor of the override votes on Wednesday.

“It’s time for us to stand up for the legislative branch. It’s time for us to reassert ourselves as a separate and co-equal branch of government here in the state of Ohio,” McColley said.

A number of Democrats spoke out against the bill, saying that decision-making power should rest in the hands of health experts.

DeWine and health officials view this legislation as tying the hands of government to respond quickly to a fast-developing crisis such as a pandemic.

In testifying against the bill last month, Ohio Department of Health chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said an “emergency response must be nimble and public health officials must have the ability to react to rapidly changing conditions as they happen.”

Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, echoed that point ahead of the vote.

“How in the world would a group of legislators come together with all different opinions, listening and believing all different information from science, to make a decision in a quick fashion dealing with an emergency? I just don’t think it would be possible. I think this is dangerous,” she said.

Two-dozen county and city health departments in Ohio publicly opposed SB 22.

DeWine has also pointed to an analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission, which concluded that SB 22 may be unconstitutional and thus could face legal challenges. Bill supporters in the legislature disagree with that assessment.

RELATED: Health officials ring alarm as GOP prepares to override Dewine's veto

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