DeWine: Bill to end COVID-19 emergency order doesn’t end the threat

By: - September 21, 2020 12:50 am

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen during a COVID-19 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy OhioChannel)

The legislative effort to undermine Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus pandemic response continues.

The latest example: a proposed “Restore Ohio Now” bill from Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland, that would end the COVID-19 State of Emergency in Ohio. 

The State of Emergency was among the very first orders signed by the governor in addressing the virus. The emergency declaration was made on March 9, the same day that the first COVID-19 cases in Ohio were reported.

“This really allows us to do some things that we could not do without a State of Emergency,” DeWine said at that day’s press conference. “For example, it would allow us to purchase items, health-related items, without a bid.”

The order has remained in effect since then. 

Grendell’s bill seeks not only to end the emergency order, but end any other order issued by DeWine that are contingent on the state of emergency.

One such example is the order limiting mass gatherings in Ohio, which was signed by then-Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton on March 12. That order states it remains in effect until the State of Emergency “no longer exists,” or is otherwise rescinded or modified. 

“Many Ohioans have worked diligently, in good-faith with the Governor to flatten the curve of COVID-19 for months, and we accomplished this goal awhile back,” Grendell claimed in a statement in support for the bill. 

Grendell said that DeWine initially responded “appropriately to an unknown threat facing Ohioans,” but has since continued to rely on “restrictive orders against our businesses and all Ohioans.”

State Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland

Grendell and other House Republicans have introduced a number of bills this year seeking to curtail the executive power of the governor and state health director. They have characterized the executive branch as having overstepped its bounds in taking charge of the coronavirus response, with these bills presented as a way to ensure separation of powers.

“It’s crucial, for the sake of our people and our Constitution, that one branch of government cannot solely supersede on our entire state with overwhelming and unchecked authority,” Grendell continued in her statement.

Asked about the bill at his Sept. 17 press conference, DeWine said he had “a great deal of respect” for Grendell as a legislator but that he disagreed with this effort.

“I wish it was as simple as passing a law to get us away from an emergency that we’re in,” he said. “I mean, factually we are in an emergency whether it’s declared or not.

“Passing a law saying it’s not an emergency is not going to make it not an emergency,” the governor continued.

DeWine has threatened to veto bills that would curb his office’s power in handling the virus, though one recent bill signing was an exception. DeWine signed into law House Bill 272, which prohibits any public order to close places of worship and prevents a public official from intervening in an election being held, as the governor did with the March primary.

Churches in Ohio have never been forced to close during the pandemic. Some faith leaders have chosen to close or limit the number of worshipers in order to slow the spread, but there has never been a health order requiring them to do so. DeWine has defended this choice as allowing for First Amendment freedoms.

Grendell’s bill has not yet been formally introduced. She previously introduced the “Truth In COVID-19 Statistics” bill, looking to require the state health department to report certain pieces of information related to the virus. That bill passed the House but has not made progress in the Senate.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.