COLUMBUS — As cases of coronavirus rise rapidly in the state and county, the Ohio House of Representatives moved Wednesday to pass legislation that would prevent further shutdowns.
Ohio House Bill 621, referred to as the Business Fairness Act would prevent Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Interim Director Lance Himes from effectively carrying out another round of shutdowns as long as the business can still follow other safety standards.
State Reps Jon Cross, R-Kenton and Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro introduced the legislation in May a few days before the stay-at-home order was completely lifted. The House voted 77-10 to pass the act with significant and bipartisan support, including District 90 Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester.
Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, will represent Scioto County’s voice on the matter and he plans on joining Baldridge in favor of the legislation when given the opportunity.
Praising small businesses throughout the 14th Senate District for their compliance with the governor’s orders, Johnson said the time has come to end DeWine’s “unilateral prescriptions.”
“Doubling down now on small businesses with rules and regulations that did not work makes absolutely no sense,” said Johnson, who recently won his reelection bid.” Our businesses can operate safely, as they have clearly proven from the very beginning.”
“It’s clearly time for the Governor to start paying attention to his coequal branch of government, the Ohio legislature,” he added. “To date, our voices have fallen on his deaf ears. It’s time for that to stop.”
Bearing witness to the turbulent times for small businesses, Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis sees the proposed law as a way to level the playing field for local and chain operations.
“I personally like the fact that the ODH or Governor can’t discriminate between employers,” said Davis, who recently voted in favor of revising the county’s small business CARES Act relief program. “It is my understanding a small mom and pop store could not be closed unless all retailers, like Walmart, were closed. No discrimination and no competitive advantage for larger companies.”
In a statement, Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Carver said the organization is non-partisan and thus cannot take a stand on the legislation.
“We are, however very concerned about the ongoing safety and security of our businesses,” she said. “We have remained opened and have worked diligently to promote safe practices among our members. It is our desire that all our area businesses can stay open and operate in a safe way according to reasonable guidelines.”
Regardless of how the Senate votes, DeWine still holds veto power and he is expected to use it as Statehouse News Bureau journalist Karen Kasler reported. The governor also plans on rejecting Senate Bill 311, which would prevent ODH from issuing quarantine orders for individuals who have neither been directly exposed or tested positive for the coronavirus.
“SB 311 is a disaster. I know it’s well-intended by the General Assembly, but when you look at the ramifications, this is not a bill that can become law,” tweeted DeWine Thursday, listing several instances of how the bill would essentially hand-cuff the department in his view.
A co-sponsor and signatory of a letter addressed to DeWine, Johnson said during a Sept. 23 Senate session that the virus was a very serious threat facing the state, but not one deserving of draconian measures.
The new nature of the disease, one where little knew of its lethality, he said made it increasingly challenging to control it.
“It’s an unprecedented virus because it’s new,” said Johnson, a practicing physician. “If you think there was some way to stop this virus, tell me how you stop the tide, tell me how you stop the wind.”
“Once governors across a nation, whether they’re blue or red or somewhere in between, take political control of a medical crisis, they have a difficult time relinquishing that control,” he added, emphasizing a need for DeWine to carry out his duties while listening to those in the General Assembly.
In order to override those vetoes and for it to become law, a supermajority vote is needed in both the House and Senate.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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