DeWine pledges veto of latest attempt to curb public health authority

By: - February 17, 2021 12:50 am

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo courtesy The Ohio Channel.

Gov. Mike DeWine is sticking with his pledge to veto any legislation in 2021 targeting the authority of Ohio’s public health officials.

Even as Ohio continues to see a downward trend of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the governor said this is not the time to minimize the executive branch’s authority to respond to a pandemic. 

“We are not out of this yet,” he said Tuesday. “We cannot declare victory.”

Republicans are once again trying to limit the power of the governor and the Ohio Department of Health through Senate Bill 22 (and its companion legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives).

The legislation, if enacted, would give lawmakers the ability to rescind any public health order issued by the ODH as well as emergency declarations issued by the governor. 

Public health officials from throughout Ohio have come out against the bill, including nearly two-dozen local health departments and Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the ODH chief medical officer. 

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the chief medical officer of the Ohio Department of Health, is seen testifying last Wednesday against Senate Bill 22. Screenshot courtesy The Ohio Channel.

The bill sponsors say the changes are necessary to provide legislative oversight for executive branch decisions that affect businesses, schools and Ohioans’ personal freedoms.

Policy researchers at the Ohio Statehouse have suggested the proposed legislation may be unconstitutional. DeWine said he believes it to be unconstitutional.

The governor pointed not just to the ongoing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 but the impending work to mitigate a variant of the deadly virus. He noted Dr. Vanderhoff would be addressing the issue of a coronavirus mutation at Thursday’s press conference. 

“This is not the time for us to be cutting our authority, (the) health department’s authority back in regard to protecting the people of the state,” DeWine said. “It also has long-term ramifications well beyond this governor, well beyond this health department, well beyond this pandemic …  I think it would just be a grave, grave mistake.”

The governor said he’s told fellow Republicans in the Statehouse of his plans to veto SB 22 should the Ohio General Assembly approve it.

The question becomes whether this legislation would have enough support to override his veto. It takes a three-fifths vote to override, or at least 60 of the 99 state representatives along with 20 of the 33 state senators.

Reaching that threshold was a struggle for the Republican caucuses in 2020, but the party managed to gain seats in both chambers headed into the legislative term beginning in 2021. Republicans now hold 64 seats in the Ohio House of Representatives and 25 in the Ohio Senate, meaning they have an even wider supermajority and potentially a greater shot at overriding a veto of SB 22.

Before any of that can happen, the legislation must first be advanced from committees and passed by each chamber. A Senate committee is holding another hearing on SB 22 this morning.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of seats Republicans hold in the Ohio House of Representatives. The correct number is 64 (out of 99 total seats).



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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.