In about two months, Ohio lawmakers will gain the power to strike down public health orders they disagree with through a majority vote.
Some Republican legislators are continuing to seek other ways to curtail the authority of the state health department. A new bill proposes to let health orders expire without lawmakers having to necessarily take a vote to rescind them.
Rep. Kris Jordan, R-Ostrander, introduced House Bill 267 last week with the initial support of five GOP cosponsors.
The bill would limit health orders issued to prevent the spread of infectious diseases to being in effect for up to 14 days. After two weeks, an order would expire unless the Ohio General Assembly voted to extend it. The Ohio General Assembly would have the power to continuously extend an order for intervals of up to 14 days.
If at any point lawmakers choose not to extend a health order and it expires, state officials would not be able to reissue the order (or a similar one) for two months.
HB 267 awaits its first committee hearing.
For the past year, Republican lawmakers have sought veto power over executive branch decisions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. They have argued this power would allow for legislative oversight of orders viewed to be infringing on Ohioans’ liberties.
The Republican supermajorities passed a similar piece of legislation in Senate Bill 22 earlier this year. SB 22, which goes into effect in late June, will thereafter limit any state of emergency declaration to 30 days unless the Ohio General Assembly extends it. Lawmakers would also be able to vote down health orders from the moment after they are announced.
Gov. Mike DeWine and public health experts from throughout the state fought back against the SB 22, and DeWine issued a veto when it reached his desk.
The governor has excoriated efforts to curb the power of state health officials, warning that doing so could have grave implications if the state has to deal with any major health crisis again.
In a party-line vote, Republicans chose to override his veto.
House Democrats recently introduced a bill to repeal SB 22, though it is unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled legislature.
It is possible the existing COVID-19 health orders will already be rescinded by the time SB 22 is in effect — DeWine has offered specific case count metrics the state must reach for the health orders to be removed.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said in March the legislature would consider using its new authority this summer if the health orders are still in place.