With vaccinations ramping up and Ohio’s governor having announced the metrics for dropping all public health orders, Republicans in the Statehouse are still advancing legislation meant to target the executive branch’s pandemic authority.
A bill to give lawmakers the power to strike down health orders they disagree with advanced Tuesday to the House chamber, where the Republican majority is expected to pass the bill on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 22 already passed the Ohio Senate last month. The bill’s Republican sponsors have characterized the bill as being designed to ensure checks and balances between the branches of government during any future public health crisis. Other bill supporters in the legislature see it as a necessary response to a governor whose pandemic response has been, in their view, too heavy-handed and not open enough to the ideas of state lawmakers.
Public health officials have spoken out against the legislation.
The bill seeks to limit how long a public health state of emergency can last, with the Ohio General Assembly able to extend it as desired.
The state health department would still be able to issue orders meant to slow the spread of an infectious disease. But the law would allow legislators to rescind such orders by passing a concurrent resolution. (The premise of the bill may be unconstitutional, researchers have written.)
SB 22 would also create a new Ohio Health Oversight and Advisory Committee, a smaller group of lawmakers which would oversee actions taken by state agencies and make recommendations to the entire General Assembly.
The bill advanced by a House committee on Tuesday differs from the version passed by the Ohio Senate. The amended version allows lawmakers to rescind orders the same day they are adopted; in the previous version, lawmakers had to wait 11 days before being able to take action.
It also would prevent a local health board from issuing any widespread quarantine or shutdown orders.
The new language also broadens the legislative oversight to other statewide elected officials, not just the governor, and would let lawmakers rescind orders issued by an array of state agencies. It also includes a provision detailing how a citizen could challenge a state health order in their home county’s court system.
If the full House chamber approves the bill, state senators would have to agree with these changes in order to send it to DeWine’s desk.
Democrats tried to introduce their own amendments to the bill on Tuesday. One proposal was to make the rescission of health orders come via bill rather than concurrent resolution in order to answer the questions of constitutionality. Another proposal sought to establish qualifications for the lawmakers appointed to the new oversight committee — that they be physicians or otherwise have some level of public health expertise.
These amendments were tabled.
The governor has already vowed to veto the legislation. The Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers would be enough to override his veto.
This story has been updated with more details on the amended version.