The Ohio Senate passed a bill Thursday intended to limit the power of the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine has promised to veto it.
The bill, known as Senate Bill 311, deals with the Ohio Revised Code section governing public health orders, quarantine and isolation.
The bill prevents action from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) or the director from being “general, mandatory statewide or regional” in terms of standing orders, quarantines and isolation for people “who have not been either directly exposed to or medically diagnosed with the disease or illness that is the subject” of the order.
It also allows the general assembly to rescind a special or standing order or rule issued by ODH through a resolution.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Rob McColley (R-1) of Napoleon.
“Throughout this crisis, the executive branch has been exercising legislative authority in an unprecedented manner,” McColley said in a statement to The Bryan Times. “While I do not question the governor’s motives, that is not how our government is supposed to work. SB 311 installs needed checks and balances and restores the natural separation of powers to our government so Ohioans can now have a greater voice through their elected legislators.”
The senate passed the bill on Thursday with a 58 to 32 vote. That same day, DeWine promised to veto the bill.
According to the state senate’s website, he has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to veto the bill. His veto can be overridden with a 3/5 vote of each house or 2/3 in certain cases.
In his statement, McColley anticipated the legislature would have the votes to override the veto.
During a press conference Thursday, DeWine said “all bills are well intended,” but this one is a “disaster” and would be “devastating.”
If it went into law, DeWine said it would remove the authority required to respond to this and future outbreaks.
For example, he said Ohio would not be allowed to quarantine a person who came from a country suffering an ebola outbreak, nor could they act quickly enough if a biological weapon was unleashed on Ohioans.
McColley called both those examples and more untrue on his Twitter page.
“This is not a bill that can become law,” DeWine added. “I have said throughout this pandemic that I would take advice, and have been taking advice, from medical and health experts.”
These experts have also told him the bill would be a disaster.
Medical professionals have expressed their opposition to the bill, including the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), of which Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers is a member.
“We oppose the legislation because it restricts the ability of the Ohio Department of Health to issue mandates, like the one issued recently for the (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.) curfew, which we feel would allow the spread of the virus and further strain our resources,” CHWC President and CEO Chad Tinkel said Friday.
Tinkel also forwarded a letter signed by OHA, Ohio State Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Ohio Business Roundtable and the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association in opposition to the bill.
“While we are currently experiencing unprecedented increases in COVID-19 cases and new daily records of hospitalizations and ICU stays, we would urge that the Ohio Legislature rethink passing this legislation at this time,” the letter states. “As many know, one of the most concerning aspects of the COVID-19 disease is the ability for transmission to occur between parties unknowingly, and how individuals who are actually positive for COVID-19 can unintentionally spread the disease to others because they may not experience any symptoms.”
The organizations fear if ODH is limited to issuing orders only to people knowingly and directly exposed to a disease or diagnosed with it, then there would be millions of Ohioans who would be put at risk and their safety would be compromised.
The proposal would not help Ohio stem the rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and death occurring as a result of the pandemic, the organizations state in the letter.
“Tragically, over 5,700 Ohioans have lost their lives now due to COVID-19, and their loved ones face immeasurable loss. Now is not the time to let up,” the letter, dated Thursday, reads. “The public health crisis is not over, and making changes to the manner in which the state department of health issues orders to protect the health and well-being of Ohioans is not the right direction to go at this time, especially as spread of COVID-19 continues to accelerate. We need to stay the course, keep fighting and make sure we continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.”
Because a pandemic like this has not been seen in our lifetimes, the organizations state in the letter that actions “unfamiliar and perhaps even uncomfortable to us” are needed.