The Ohio House and Senate have passed a bill to limit states of emergency and health orders issued by the governor. Supporters say the change would allow for more accountability between the executive and legislative branches.
The bill, SB22, allows lawmakers to revoke states of emergency and health orders. House Republicans say this allows the legislature to represent their constituents when controversial decisions are made, such as last year's Stay-At-Home order.
"If you believe in checks and balances and transparency this bill is for you. This bill is about empowering people. It's empowering parents, empowering small businesses, empowering Ohioans. It's about ensuring that they have a voice in their futures," Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) said on the House floor Wednesday.
Support for this type of legislation has been building among Republican lawmakers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide response from Gov. Mike DeWine's (R-Ohio) administration.
The bill would put a 90-day expiration on a state of emergency issued by the governor. It would also allow the General Assembly to rescind any orders or rules, such as health orders, in response to that state of emergency.
The Ohio General Assembly would also have the ability to revoke a state of emergency after being in effect for 30 days, by concurrent resolution. If a state of emergency expires or is terminated, the governor would not be able to reissue a similar state of emergency for 60 days. In that time, it would be up to legislators to decide if continuing the state of emergency is necessary.
Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin), opposed SB22. She said it hampers the state's ability to act quickly to respond to urgent matters such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Experts from around the world came together to come up with mitigation efforts and prevent spread while others researched vaccines that appear to be on the verge of containing the pandemic. Much like we've done with measles, small pox, polio, just to name a few. Now is not the time to change course, allowing politics to override experts," said Liston, who added the bill could have unintended consequences on other states of emergency not related to the pandemic.
DeWine has said he would veto the bill. He says it's important for the governor to have the authority to issue these orders, quickly, based on expert information from different state agencies.
The measure passed the House by a vote of 57-37. Sixty votes are needed in order to override a potential veto by DeWine. House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said he's "absolutely positive" they have the votes.
Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) a vocal critic of DeWine's response to the pandemic and the state-issued health orders, voted "no" on SB22.
"I swore an oath to uphold the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Constitution does not allow for a resolution to override a law. The rank order is the Ohio Constitution is the highest law of the state, then Ohio Law. Resolutions are low level and non-binding. While I agree with the premise of the bill, I cannot vote for something that is both unconstitutional and frankly does nothing. The legislature has had 12 months to restrict the governor powers. It has collectively chosen not to. SB22 does nothing we cannot already do. It should have had a 15 or 30-day clause termination," Vitale wrote in a statement.
Vitale pointed out that Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) drafted an amendment to have states of emergency expire after 30 days, but Cupp did not allow Powell to present that amendment on the House floor.
"When I attempted to present my amendment on the floor, I was disregarded. All Democrats who wanted to present amendments were allowed to do so, but I was not. Leadership made it apparent that they do not care about the 120,000+ individuals that I represent. We filed a motion to reconsider so that members could speak, but the Speaker recessed session, allowing SB22 to be concurred on in the Senate – ultimately leaving my district without a voice. The Speaker and leadership should be ashamed at the lack of respect for Ohioans they showed today," Powell said in a written statement.
When asked why he did not let an elected official present her amendment on the House floor, Cupp said, "The bill that was passed today was supported by the Republican caucus. It was agreed to by the Senate."
DeWine will have 10 days after receiving the bill to make a decision on SB22. The Ohio House and Senate have both said they are prepared to hold a vote to override a possible veto.