COLUMBUS — While earlier attempts to limit Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health’s authority have been met with vetoes, new action is again being considered by the Ohio Senate to rescind public health orders in response to the coronavirus.
At the center of the legislation is Scioto County’s own Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, who along with Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced Senate Bill 22 earlier this week. An additional 13 Senators co-sponsored the bill.
During the Senate Government Oversight Reform Committee session on Tuesday, Johnson and McColley provided co-sponsor testimony in promotion of the legislation that would create a bipartisan committee to advise the governor in matters of public health.
“This is a responsible safeguard to ensure that Ohioans and their elected Representatives and Senators are fully engaged in approving or denying restrictions that come down from the state during challenging times like these,” said Johnson, who just began another term after assuming office in 2019.
“The goal of this piece of legislation is to restore the separation of powers to our government,” McColley, a senator in 11 northwest Ohio counties, added in a press release. “I want to highlight that it does not matter how good the intentions are, the constitution and its separation of powers remain in effect during public health emergencies. During an emergency, the executive branch enjoys powers traditionally reserved to the legislature. It is essential that the executive branch be subject to checks and balances to ensure a properly functioning government.”
SB 22 would establish the Ohio Health Oversight and Advisory Committee, where 10 members from the Senate and House of Representatives would be appointed by the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.
Based on its current dimensions, Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Robert R. Cupp would choose three Republicans and two Democrats from their respective part of the legislative branch. The Republican Party holds the majority in both the Senate, with 25 of 33 Senators, and the House with 64 of 99 Representatives.
“It is important that we, the legislative branch, are engaged when it comes to decisions that so powerfully effect the health, safety, welfare and freedom of our constituents,” said Johnson, seeing the legislation as a way to rescind the orders from DeWine and ODH that have caused many to struggle.
In its move to halt this “overreach,” a press release from the Johnson office says the bill prohibits the reissuing any rescinded executive order, special or standing order, or rule for 90 days. Public health state of emergencies issued by the Governor would also only remain in effect for 30 days unless the General Assembly adopted an extension through concurrent resolution.
Johnson has been vocal in curbing the authority of DeWine throughout the pandemic, most notably during a Sept. 23 Senate session and in his backing of House Bill 621 that denied the ability to shutdown businesses as long as they follow safety orders.
“Doubling down now on small businesses with rules and regulations that did not work makes absolutely no sense,” he said in a Nov. 19 Portsmouth Daily Times article. “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, the Business Fairness Act remaining in the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee since December. “To date, our voices have fallen on his deaf ears. It’s time for that to stop.”
The bill mirrors in many ways the previously vetoed Senate Bill 311 that had the backing of Johnson and Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester. DeWine announced before its passing that he would veto it and he stuck by his word.
“SB 311 is a disaster. I know it’s well-intentioned by the General Assembly, but when you look at the ramifications, this is not a bill that can become law,” the Governor tweeted on Nov. 19, the same day it passed the House in a 58-32 vote. He vetoed the bill on Dec. 4 with the support of health experts.
The Times also reached out to the Portsmouth City Health Department to see how this bill would affect their work, who replied by saying they do not comment on partisan matters.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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