Across the Senate, staffers are being instructed to remove chairs from committee hearing rooms in similar fashion to only allow the maximum number of people in a room that ensures social distancing, said Senate President Matthew Huffman, a Lima Republican. No standing will be allowed.
"I think that will minimize, but certainly not completely eliminate the concerns," said Huffman, who contracted the coronavirus late last year and experienced mild symptoms.
The bill allowing lawmakers to rescind a governor’s public health orders is similar to one Republican Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed last year and stems from GOP frustration at several of DeWine’s orders — like a statewide mask order and the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The bill will reduce the “chaos” associated with the multiple orders in the past year, Huffman said.
The goal is “to allow governor to do these things in a state of emergency, but then have some analysis,” Huffman said.
Mask wearing has been a partisan issue in state legislatures nationally and in Ohio for months, with many Republicans declining to wear masks, while some Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed measures to require them in the General Assembly.
In Ohio’s Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, GOP lawmakers — many without masks — rejected Democratic motions to require Statehouse staff to wear masks and to allow virtual testimony on bills, including by lawmakers.
“Barring virtual testimony, refusing to require masks and stifling opposing voices is antithetical to our role as the People’s House," said Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the top House Democrat.
House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Republican also from Lima, said the virtual testimony motion was premature and left a lot of questions for members, including the logistics of virtual voting. Cupp also questioned whether the Statehouse has the proper infrastructure to support widespread virtual testimony.
While he himself wears a mask when on the House floor and encourage members to do so, Cupp said he can't enforce a rule on other members to do the same.
“Obviously there is a wide divergence of opinion about wearing masks and I would say the vast majority of members of the House, whether they wear masks or not, do not want a rule forcing everybody else to do that,” he said.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new coronavirus cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 6,160 new cases per day on Jan. 19 to 4,260 new cases per day on Feb. 2.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.