Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 215, the Business Fairness Act. The bill was cosponsored by two local representatives, Riordan McClain (district 87) and Gary Click (district 88), and has now moved to the Senate for consideration.
The legislation would allow any business that complies with government safety standards to remain open during a public health emergency. It would eliminate the concept of “essential” businesses, giving all businesses a chance to stay open should another pandemic or epidemic occur.
After being introduced in the House on March 16, the bill passed 77 to 17 on May 6 with bipartisan support. It was originally introduced as HB 621 last year by Representatives Jon Cross of Kenton and Shane Wilkin of Hillsboro.
“Small business owners had their worlds turned upside down when they were forced to shut down last year,” said Cross in a statement. “Getting this bill signed into law will send a strong message that Ohio will remain open for business and keep our economy moving forward.”
Click agreed, noting that large retailers like Walmart and Kroger were allowed to have many people in their stores daily while locally-owned businesses selling similar products were forced to close.
“It’s imperative that our local business owners are treated fairly in the statewide shutdown process,” Click said. “As they have proven they can adhere to safety guidelines, they then should be able to remain open to earn a living — both owners and workers alike.”
After the legislature overrode Governor DeWine’s veto of Senate Bill 22 in March, the health department’s power to enact safety regulations in the first place has been severely limited. If the Director of Health took any action or made an order to suppress the spread of a disease, the legislature now has the ability to rescind that action.
Also in March, house Republicans introduced HB 202, which would eliminate the state health department’s ability to put mask orders in place in the future.