(The Center Square) — Gov. Mike DeWine has vetoed a bill that would have, in part, reduced the penalties for anyone who violated pandemic-related orders from state or local health department.
Lawmakers added the provision to lessen the penalties for violating health orders onto Senate Bill 55, a measure to increase the punishment for selling controlled substances such as cocaine or heroin within 1,000 feet of a recovery center.
“This is an idea I support, and look forward to the day I sign that provision into law,” DeWine said in a veto statement.
“However, the bill was amended in a way that would make it difficult for local health officials to protect the public’s safety and fight the spread of COVID-19,” the governor added. “In the midst of this pandemic, now is not the time to change tactics and impede local health officials’ ability to protect all Ohioans.”
Under state law, violating an Ohio Department of Health order is a second-degree misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $750 and 90 days in jail, according to a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis.
The bill would have changed violations of pandemic-related orders from the state health department to a warning on the first offense. Meanwhile, subsequent violations would have been a minor misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum fine of $150.
The bill would have also changed penalties for violating local health department orders, and violators of local health department orders would have faced a warning for their first offense and a fine of up to $100 for subsequent offenses.
The bill was one of several that lawmakers, primarily in the state House, have pushed amid the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the state health department’s power. House Republicans have pushed measures to give lawmakers oversight of pandemic orders the state health department issues and curtail the department’s ability to mandate businesses close amid a pandemic.
“Our collective goals are always to ensure the safety of the public, guard against the health care system from being overwhelmed, and allowing all Ohio workers and businesses to do what they do best, which is grow our economy,” DeWine said.
“A robust public health system protects us from E-coli and Legionella outbreaks, threats of bioterrorism, or once-in-a-century pandemics,” he said.
Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square