DeWine vetoes bill to curb public health orders, lawmakers say they can override

In a showdown with state lawmakers, Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed Tuesday a bill that would undercut the governor’s power to issue and enforce public health orders in an emergency.

In his veto message, the governor said Senate Bill 22 “jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan” and “handcuffs Ohio’s ability to confront crises.”

Legislative leaders in the House and Senate say they have the two-thirds majority votes to override DeWine’s veto.

State Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, responded to DeWine, saying they have different views of government powers and individual freedoms.

“When power is consolidated through emergency it always leads to tragic oppression and is rarely retrieved by the people without desperate action,” Wiggam said in his letter. “In the past year, Ohioans have faced constantly moving goal posts and life changing policies from one branch of Ohio’s three branches of government.”

ExploreDeWine calls bill that would limit public health powers unconstitutional

A year ago as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up across the globe, DeWine and his team issued orders shutting down businesses and schools, limit crowd sizes and require face masks in public.

While medical experts cheered DeWine’s actions as life saving, others called it a government overreach that infringed on personal freedoms.

Senate Bill 22, which is the latest attempt to curb public health powers, calls for:

  • Limiting the duration of a state of emergency to 90 days, unless extended by the General Assembly.
  • Allowing the General Assembly to rescind executive branch emergency orders.
  • A committee of lawmakers would sit on an advisory panel to oversee actions taken by the governor or state health department in response to an emergency.
  • Limiting local health department’s quarantine and closure orders to apply only to people diagnosed with or in direct contact with someone with a specified disease.

DeWine vetoed a similar measure late last year but Senate leaders opted not to hold an over ride vote then.

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DeWine sent a five-page letter to lawmakers on Monday detailing why he opposes SB22 — most of the points were repeated in his veto message on Tuesday.

The governor said the bill would make responding to outbreaks of food poisoning, Ebola and other infectious diseases, as well as emergencies such as tornadoes, floods or prison riots far more difficult and slow. He also said it would expose the state to more lawsuits.

DeWine laid out multiple scenarios where SB22 could prove cumbersome. For example, a health department wouldn’t be able to issue a general order to force restaurants to destroy tainted romaine lettuce sold by a particular supplier.

Along with the veto message, DeWine released letters calling for a veto from the Ohio State Medical Association, Ohio Hospital Association, Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, Ohio Mayors Alliance, Ohio Association of Community Colleges and others.

Public health officials from nine counties in the Miami Valley released a letter calling Senate Bill 22 “a colossal misstep” that “demonstrates a willful neglect of scientific evidence.”

The three-page letter from Montgomery County commissioners and the health departments of Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Piqua, Preble, Montgomery and Warren counties warns of ill-advised changes to public health authority.

The local officials called SB22 reactionary, disturbing, troubling and ignorant, and warned that it would hamper efforts to contain future epidemics. They also said that curtailing public health authority would have a disparate impact on minority and low-income communities. “Proposing such legislation is shameful,” the letter said.

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