On a day when Ohio set more records for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, some Republican lawmakers turned their attention once more to reining in the state health department’s authority in trying to curb the spread of an infectious disease.
For much of 2020, Ohio Republicans have introduced and approved various pieces of legislation that targets the Ohio Department of Health’s ability to issue and enforce shutdown orders. Another such bill was favorably reported out of the Ohio House’s State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday and heads to the full chamber for consideration.
House Bill 621 was first introduced by state Reps. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, and Shane Wilkin, R-Lynchburg, in early May when parts of the Ohio economy were still forcibly closed.
Also known as the “Business Fairness Act,” HB 621 was proposed in response to some small businesses being closed by state health orders while other larger businesses were allowed to stay open.
Only “essential” businesses were allowed to stay open when ODH issued its initial shutdown orders, a designation that included big-box stores but excluded many smaller retailers. A local jewelry store was forced to close, as an example, while a Wal-Mart was allowed to stay open and sell jewelry due to its grocery section putting it on the “essential” list.
HB 621 would attempt to level that playing field should any future health orders be necessary. A business forced by a health order to close would be able to continue selling any product offered by a business not ordered to close — so long as it otherwise abides by safety requirements.
“Our goal is, if you can go into let’s say a big box store and buy a locket for your wife or your mom this Mother’s Day, you should be able to go into your local jewelry store and do the same thing,” Wilkin said in May, “provided they can meet the safety standards that anybody else is meeting.”
The bill passed in committee by a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.