COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate passed a bill along party lines Wednesday focused on additional legislative oversight regarding public health orders put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
While not supported by the Ohio Department of Health or Gov. Mike DeWine, Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, sees Senate Bill 22 as a matter of checks and balances.
“This bill will go a long way toward strengthening our ability to respond to health emergencies in Ohio,” said Johnson in a press release, a primary sponsor of the bill with Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon. “It in no way limits a governor’s timely response to health crises. It simply ensures that the direct representatives of the people of Ohio—their state representatives and senators—have meaningful input into the process.”
“This is consistent with the separation of powers in place with 34 other states, including all of our neighboring states,” added McColley, who serves as the Vice-Chair of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
Introduced in January, the bill would establish the bipartisan, bicameral Ohio Health Oversight and Advisory Committee which would review orders passed by DeWine and ODH during a statewide public health emergency.
In a Feb. 10 committee session, ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff testified as an opponent, saying it restricts the department’s ability to battle the virus.
“Every day, researchers are putting in long hours to find ways to protect us, and every day, we learn something new,” he said. “As we gain this knowledge, as we see COVID-19 variants develop and learn new ways to defend against them, we must be able to respond aggressively.”
Even with numbers trending in the right direction statewide, reporting just north of 1,800 cases Wednesday, Vanderhoff said vigilance is still needed.
Such abilities the bill provides the General Assembly- termination of a public health state of emergency after 30 days and rescind a related executive order or rule after 11 days- goes in direct challenge of that needed vigilance and would not give “sufficient time to ensure the emergency has passed.”
“We are here because we had the tools we needed to get here, and because Ohioans used them to contain the pandemic when our economy, our health system, and our very lives were threatened,” he said, adding that the introduction of vaccines in December has brought the numbers down from prior record highs. “These were unquestionably painful steps, but they put us on the road to success.”
Many other public health departments joined in with Vanderhoff, including the county boards of health in Franklin, Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties. When asked previously by the Portsmouth Daily Times, the Portsmouth City Health Department said they do not comment on partisan matters.
Despite these opponents’ testimonies, proponents such as the anti-vaccine group Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom won out as the Senate passed the bill in a 25-8 vote.
The bill is similar to the vetoed Senate Bill 311 from last year, which again moved to allow the General Assembly to rescind ODH orders. DeWine told reporters during a Tuesday news conference that he planned on vetoing this legislation if it passed as well.
Senate Bill 22 will now be sent to the Ohio House, which also introduced its companion House Bill 90 last week, for consideration.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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