(The Center Square) – Legislation that gives the Ohio General Assembly the power to end Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide COVID-19 restrictions may be too late, if promises for a vaccine by the end of the year come to pass.
The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibits a statewide stay-at-home order like the one enacted by DeWine in the spring, and it gives the legislature the ability by concurrent resolution to end other orders that shut down businesses.
The bill came out of committee Thursday morning on a party-line vote and went to the floor Thursday afternoon.
At his bi-weekly news conference, DeWine said he would have a moral obligation to veto the bill. He said the bill would severely handicap future governors. He pointed to future viruses or national security issues as critical
“This bill would make Ohio slow to respond to a crisis. It would take tools away from this governor and future governors. It would put the lives of Ohioans in jeopardy,” DeWine said. “When you really look at the ramifications of this bill, it is not a bill that can become law. Health experts have told me this bill cannot become law. They have told me this bill would be a disaster.”
Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, chair of the House State and Local Government Committee, expects the bill to be veto-proof in both the House and Senate.
“It opens up the process of orders and allows the legislature to have oversight over those orders,” Wiggam said. “It makes for an open and transparent process.”
However, it does not contain an emergency clause, Wiggam said.
While both the House and Senate can override DeWine’s veto, without enough votes for an emergency clause, the law will not go into effect until 90 days after both chambers override.
With state and federal officials hoping a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of the year, there is potential for DeWine to pull back current orders before the legislature gets an opportunity to begin the process of examining them.
“Since we couldn’t get Democrats to be part of this bill, we are looking at 90 days," Wiggam said. “That’s the frustrating part for a lot of our constituents. There’s nothing more I can do.”
Ranking House Democrat Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, called fast-tracking Senate Bill 311 a threat to the lives of Ohioans and the state’s economy.
“Stripping the State Health Director from being able to take action during public health crises will only lead to more deaths and further destabilize our economy,” Kelly said. “We all want to get through this crisis and reopen our economy, but that can’t happen unless we do it right, and that means listening to health experts to implement strategies to control the virus, protect workers and restore consumer confidence.
“This bill will only slow our response, cost more lives and force more businesses into financial ruin. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy Ohioans to power it.”