The Ohio General Assembly voted last week to strip Gov. Mike DeWine of the “ultimate authority” accorded to his health department to impose statewide pandemic orders. Senate Bill 311 was approved in the Ohio House on a party-line vote by a margin of 58-32.
The Ohio Senate approved the measure in September, 20-13, with four Republican senators crossing party lines to vote against the bill.
Under current law, the department of health has “ultimate authority in matters of quarantine and isolation, which it may declare, modify, and enforce.” Gov. DeWine, a Republican, has used the broad authority granted to the health department to issue dozens upon dozens of mandates, lockdowns, school and business closures, trampling the civil liberties of Ohioans, crippling businesses across the state, and keeping children out of their classrooms.
The legislature stripped the word “ultimate” from the code and further modified it to say that the department “shall not issue a general, mandatory statewide or regional quarantine or isolation order that applies to and is enforced against individuals who have not been either directly exposed to or medically diagnosed with the disease that is the subject of the order.”
Further, the health department will no longer be permitted to issue a standing order to prevent the spread of a contagion or infectious disease that “has the effect of being a general, mandatory statewide or regional quarantine or isolation order” that applies to individuals who have neither been directly exposed to or diagnosed with the infection in question.
The bill also gives the legislature power to rescind standing health orders by adopting a concurrent resolution.
Rep. Scott Wiggam, a Republican and cosponsor of the bill, announced on Facebook that checks and balances have been restored to state government. Senate Bill 311 “will allow the Ohio House and Senate oversight through public hearings into the Department of Health orders,” he wrote. “The General Assembly will be able to rescind the orders with a simple majority resolution.”
“For nearly nine months, we have seen one branch of government imposing government order after order after order on Ohioans with full force and effective criminal law and penalties but without consulting with the actual branch of government whose job it is to draft legislation and actual law,” Wiggam told The Dispatch. “This will allow the general assembly to have a say and representation of their constituents across Ohio when it comes to protecting their rights against government overreach.”
The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature. DeWine has vowed to veto it. He told reporters last week that the bill would be “devastating,” making Ohio “slow to respond to a crisis… If by chance it would pass, I would veto the bill because I would have a moral obligation to do so.”
Republicans say they have a veto-proof majority in the House, however, they will need to secure an additional vote in order to thwart DeWine. Rep. John Becker, who has been an outspoken critic of the governor’s COVID-19 lockdown measures, along with Reps. Steve Hambley and Scott Lipps, have indicated that they will vote to override a DeWine veto.
If the legislature is indeed able to override the governor’s promised veto, the law would not take effect for 90 days, as lawmakers were unable to secure enough votes to include an emergency clause.