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Restrictions on health orders reach too far

Ohio’s Republican lawmakers, trying for about a year now to rein in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s authority to issue public health orders during the pandemic, may finally have the votes to do it.

Senate Bill 22 would let Ohio’s General Assembly vote on whether to extend or end states of emergency, modify public health orders and limit the role of local boards of health during health crises. The bill passed in Ohio’s legislature March 10 and headed to the governor’s desk. DeWine is expected to veto it early this week. The bill intends to curtail the authority granted unilaterally to one administrator during this health emergency, with supporters calling those powers overreaching and detrimental to Ohioans’ freedoms.

It sounds good on the surface, and certainly, we support checks and balances within government and separation of powers.

Still, we have grave concerns about detrimental limitations this bill creates that could slow reaction to health crises, and language that strips some important local control from city and county health departments.

The bill’s language does not eliminate a governor’s ability to issue emergency health orders in times of need. However, it limits the length of those orders and allows the legislature to rescind them by resolution.

Language in the bill will limit public health orders to 90 days and allow the Ohio legislature to terminate them after 30 days with a “concurrent resolution.”

The bill allows lawmakers to rescind any order or rule issued in response to a state emergency on the day it is declared by any statewide elected officials, administrative departments and state agencies. It also bars an executive from reissuing an order or rule for 60 days.

Now, we all have experienced government gridlock. Should a divided state legislature exist, such gridlock could have the very real possibility of slowing efforts to react to future health crises or grinding those efforts to a standstill.

What’s perhaps even more concerning is the fact that the bill will limit the ability by local health departments to act quickly in health emergencies. Essentially, this bill will ban local boards of health like those in our very area from enacting specific health orders like closing schools or prohibiting public gatherings. One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, last week told the Columbus Dispatch this particular item was necessary to prevent future governors from going around the law.

“If we rescinded the mask mandate at the state level, Franklin County couldn’t just come back in and issue a local one,” Wiggam said.

That’s a grave concern to us, as we believe local control is critical. We object to efforts to transfer that local authority to the state level.

Other concerns arising from the bill also involve new limits spelled out about when public health departments can order quarantines.

We agree with the governor’s intent to veto the measure. However, we are realistic in our realization that the bill’s supporters likely will produce enough votes to override DeWine’s expected veto. A compromise would be preferable for all parties. It’s unfortunate that, as we work to emerge from this year-long pandemic, that those in Columbus aren’t looking for ways to work together should we face this type of crisis again in the future.

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