Ohio lawmakers rebuke DeWine, override his veto on public health bill

Credit: Laura Bischoff

Ohio lawmakers rebuked Gov. Mike DeWine, overriding his veto of a public health bill.

Credit: Laura Bischoff

In a swift rebuke of Gov. Mike DeWine, state lawmakers voted Wednesday to override his veto of a bill that will undercut public health authority and give the legislature more oversight of health emergencies.

The Senate voted 23-10. The House voted 62-35. Each chamber needed a three-fifths majority vote — 20 in the Senate and 60 in the House.

It marks the first veto override of DeWine’s two-year tenure as governor, and it comes largely from his own party.

State Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, said the bill will restore checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches of government. He said the measure won’t prevent action on the front end but will allow for oversight.

“We need to stand up and we need to finish this for all the Ohioans who have been asking us for a long time to be their voice at the table,” he said.

State Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, said the bill puts guardrails around the rule making authority exercised by the executive branch. And state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said 26 other states provide for legislative oversight of emergency orders issued by the executive branch.

State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said the legislation would hamper Ohio’s ability to respond quickly to emergencies. “This is dangerous.”

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said legislators lack the expertise to make day-to-day public health decisions, especially given how many lawmakers refuse to wear masks or observe social distancing. She accused Republican lawmakers of acting out against DeWine because they feel slighted by the governor. “This body is making a terrible decision because your feelings are hurt,” she said.

Senate Bill 22 will take effect as law in 90 days. The only options to stop it would be to mount a costly referendum campaign or challenge its constitutionality in the courts. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor would review his options with legal counsel.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, a former state supreme court justice, said: “We believe the statute is constitutional and will hold up.”

He also brushed off Sykes’ accusation that action on SB22 represents a personal battle with DeWine.

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Local public health officials and the DeWine administration said SB22 would make it more difficult to control infectious disease outbreaks such as food poisoning, tuberculosis or Ebola, lead to more lawsuits and disproportionately hurt minority and low-income communities.

DeWine and his allies pressured lawmakers to skip the override, holding news conferences, releasing statements and urging Ohioans to call their legislators.

Senate Bill 22 calls for:

  • Limiting the duration of a state of emergency to 90 days, unless extended by the General Assembly.
  • Allowing the General Assembly to rescind executive branch emergency orders.
  • A committee of lawmakers would sit on an advisory panel to oversee actions taken by the governor or state health department in response to an emergency.
  • Limiting local health department’s quarantine and closure orders to apply only to people medically diagnosed with or in direct contact with someone with a specified disease.

From the beginning of the coronavirus global pandemic, DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health issued statewide orders to force shutdowns of schools and businesses, restrict visits to nursing homes, require face masks in public and limit the size of gatherings.

Many medical experts said the moves were needed to flatten the pandemic curve and keep the health care system from being overwhelmed. Others were angered by what they saw as a government overreach, infringement of individual freedoms and damaging to the economy.

How local lawmakers voted on the veto override:

Yes to override: State Sens. Niraj Antani, Bob Hackett, Matt Huffman, Steve Huffman, George Lang and Steve Wilson.; state Reps. Sara Carruthers, Rodney Creech, Bill Dean, Jennifer Gross, Thomas Hall, Kyle Koehler, Brian Lampton, Scott Lipps, Susan Manchester, Phil Plummer, Jena Powell, Tom Young, Paul Zeltwanger

No to override: No local senators; state Reps. Willis Blackshear Jr., and Andrea White.

Didn’t vote: State Rep. Nino Vitale