Ohio legislature votes to rescind health order limiting county fairs

By: - December 18, 2020 1:40 am

This was among the many signs at the 2020 Pickaway County Fair encouraging fairgoers to socially distance. Photos by Tyler Buchanan.

Ohio lawmakers did not take a vote Thursday to override a gubernatorial veto on a health department pandemic authority bill.

But they did vote to void one health order in particular — one issued this past summer limiting county fairs held in the state.

Senate Bill 375 passed the Ohio House on a party line vote, with Republicans supporting the bill to rescind the county fair health order. It previously passed the Ohio Senate in November and now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.

DeWine has pledged to veto any bill targeting the Ohio Department of Health’s authority to issue health orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The state prohibited public gatherings in the spring, but gave counties the green light to host fairs as the calendar flipped to summer — provided they follow certain health guidelines. 

In late July, the state reversed course and ODH issued a health order limiting county fairs to “Junior Fair” activities only such as animal shows and 4-H activities. 

SB 375 would void that order, allowing county fairs to host full-scale events in 2021 open to the general public.

The fair schedule typically begins in June and extends to the fall.

Neither legislative chamber took a vote Thursday to override the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 311. The bill allows lawmakers to adopt concurrent resolutions to rescind certain health orders and prevents ODH from issuing widespread quarantine orders.

DeWine vetoed the bill. Those critical of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic have urged the legislature to override the veto as a means of providing legislative oversight to his executive authority. 

A veto override has to be initiated in the Ohio Senate, which voted 20-14 to pass SB 311. All 20 “yes” votes would have to agree to an override; it is unclear if all would choose to do so.

The Ohio House of Representatives has a similar tough path to an override, particularly because COVID-19 has directly impacted the Republican caucus. The chamber needs 60 votes for an override; while there are 61 Republican members, several were absent Thursday due to having tested positive or having been exposed to the virus.

The Ohio Senate returns to session on Friday, and the Ohio House is planning to meet again next week.



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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.