Republicans in the Ohio House have approved a bill that would limit the power and length of public health orders on coronavirus that their fellow Republican, Gov. Mike DeWine, has been issuing through Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. The bill reflects a split in the GOP on how to restart the economy that could carry over into the future.
The proposal’s sudden journey to the floor started in a House committee hearing a Senate bill on reducing regulations. An amendment was added to make all new health department orders effective for 14 days and then would require a supermajority of lawmakers from each chamber on a legislative panel to vote to extend those orders.
Rep. John Becker (R-Union Township) had proposed a bill to make public health orders advisory unless lawmakers made them mandatory, and while he said this amendment didn’t do enough, he supported it.
“There’s no longer a risk of overwhelming the health care system – I’m not sure there ever was, but that argument did make sense to me initially. We have a million people that are out of work, and that it all because of the policy of the state of Ohio. And that needs to be changed," Becker said.
Democrats pushed back, including Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton), who said normally it doesn’t bother him to play politics with some issues, but this time it’s not ok.
“This amendment is not needed. It’s irresponsible. And if we allow this to pass into law, it literally will cost people their lives, and many lives," Strahorn said.
The bill passed on a party line vote, and the full House took it up a few hours later.
Its sponsor, Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster), said it would ensure lawmakers “won't be effectively made mute and impotent in times of crisis" and that it gives Ohioans a voice.
But Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) said because it moved so quickly, the proposal hadn’t been vetted and opponents hadn’t had a chance to respond.
“This is an extraordinary time. This is a time when Ohioans should know that their elected leaders are doing our homework and should trust that we are doing everything we can to keep them and their families safe, and they should never doubt that we are going to put Ohioans and their families above politics," Kelly said.
Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) said lawmakers care about those Ohioans with COVID-19, which she noted add up to about one half of one percent of the state’s population.
“Those aren’t just statistics – those are real people," Manchester said. "We also care about the 99.5% facing a range of other health challenges as well, including the anxiety, stress and mental health related to losing a job or having business shut down.”
Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) said Democrats care about businesses too, and got angry as she noted the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on black Ohioans – who are overwhelmingly represented by Democrats opposed to the amendment.
Sykes recalled a statement in which House Speaker Larry Householder said his caucus felt “disrespected” by DeWine’s decision to reopen Ohio more slowly than most Republicans would like.
.@HouseholderOH issues a statement on @GovMikeDeWine’s plans to phase open businesses starting Friday, saying: “Our members feel disrespected that their opinions have been largely disregarded by the Administration.” pic.twitter.com/zvNpKo63QC— Karen Kasler (@karenkasler) April 27, 2020
“Let me be very clear – it is disrespectful to not include the thoughts, the feelings, the concerns of the over 4 million people that the Democratic Caucus represents. That is disrespect," Sykes said.
The bill passed mostly along party lines – only Reps. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) and Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) joined all Democrats in voting against it.
And the margin was not veto-proof, should it pass the Senate. It has to go back to Senators to agree with the changes.
Afterward, Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) – among several Republicans not wearing a mask – said the bill should give everyone more confidence in whatever public orders issued by the governor that would be extended by that panel of lawmakers.
“I don’t know of anybody, any reasonably minded person, someone that could be elected by their fellow people, their peers back in their district, why anybody reasonable wouldn’t agree with reasonable orders," Householder said. "And so I don’t see it in any way affecting what the governor trying to do. I commend what the governor has did so far. But I think there has to be legislative oversight.”
And Householder said since DeWine’s orders are slowly opening the economy, the bill is more about the future, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits later this year.
DeWine put out a statement saying he’s working on increasing testing and tracing, balancing the state’s budget and moving the economy forward. The statement concludes: “Ohioans need their legislators focused on these important issues. Creating more uncertainty regarding public health and employee safety is the last thing we need as we work to restore consumer confidence in Ohio's economy."
Here’s what @GovMikeDeWine thinks of bill that passed House that would limit his power on public health orders: “Creating more uncertainty regarding public health and employee safety is the last thing we need as we work to restore consumer confidence in Ohio's economy." pic.twitter.com/BjOLYcQXaD— Karen Kasler (@karenkasler) May 6, 2020
A spokesman later confirmed he would veto the bill if it comes to him.