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Lawmakers pass bill to let them rescind health orders, setting up clash with DeWine

Tyler Buchanan, Ohio Capital Journal

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Sen. Rob McColley is seen giving sponsor testimony for Senate Bill 22 on Jan. 26. Screenshot courtesy The Ohio Channel.

The Ohio General Assembly approved a bill Wednesday to allow lawmakers to strike down health orders they disagree with, sending the legislation to a governor who has already vowed to veto it.

Republican leaders in the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate committed to holding votes to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of Senate Bill 22.

This marks the latest showdown in a yearlong disagreement between the Republican governor and legislators within his own party on the response to COVID-19. DeWine has defended the aggressive steps taken by his office and the Ohio Department of Health as being necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Lawmakers have widely condemned the response as being too heavy-handed and not appropriately considering input from the legislative branch.

SB 22, introduced by GOP Sens. Rob McColley of Napoleon and Terry Johnson of McDermott, would give lawmakers the power to rescind public health orders they disagree with via passing a concurrent resolution. They could strike down a health order the same day it is issued.

If an order is rescinded, the state would be prohibited from reissuing the same (or similar) order for a period of 60 days.

Lawmakers could also rescind a state of emergency declaration after 30 days have passed. The bill would limit emergency declarations to 90 days in length, with legislative approval needed to extend it further.

SB 22 would create the Ohio Health Oversight and Advisory Committee, a group of six legislators meant to provide a closer eye on actions taken by the executive branch during a crisis. The committee would be advisory in nature, without any voting power of its own.

Changes made to the bill Tuesday night prohibit local health boards from issuing widespread quarantine or school shutdown orders and allow Ohio citizens to sue the state government from their home counties if they feel orders made are unconstitutional.

Legislative chambers require a three-fifths majority to override a gubernatorial veto. That means at least 60 votes in the Ohio House and 20 votes in the Ohio Senate.

The Senate, which already approved SB 22 last month, concurred with the amended bill with a vote of 25-8.

The math is tighter in the House, though Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, told reporters after Wednesday’s session he is “absolutely positive” his chamber has enough votes to override.

The House vote on SB 22 was 57-37, with five Republicans not voting and two others voting against: Reps. Nino Vitale of Urbana and Andrea White of Kettering. Vitale is among the biggest critics of DeWine in the legislature, having supported an impeachment effort against the governor last year. Nevertheless, he voted no on SB 22 — telling the Statehouse News Bureau he believes it to be unconstitutional. The Legislative Service Commission opined the bill may be unconstitutional in its analysis in February.

The Republicans absent from Wednesday’s vote support the bill and would support an override, Cupp said, getting the caucus to 60 votes.

Democrats condemned the bill as being another effort to undermine public health officials and the state’s COVID-19 response. As they tried in a Tuesday committee hearing, members unsuccessfully offered floor amendments on Wednesday to the bill, such as instituting qualifications for members to serve on the new health oversight committee.

“We need to listen to public health professionals and support the safety and security of Ohioans,” said Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin. “This bill does the opposite, overriding experts and placing peoples’ lives in our state at risk during a health emergency under the control of a political process.”

A number of Republicans in both chambers praised the bill as allowing lawmakers to have a “seat at the table” when it comes to making decisions during a pandemic or other public crisis.

“Last year we have witnessed an unprecedented government overreach … and all of this without legislative input or the voice of the people,” Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, said on the Senate floor.

Roegner said she supports SB 22 “because this restores the voice of the people, it restores the balance of power and it restores our liberties.”

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