COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine has vowed to veto a bill designed to curb the authority of the state to issue public health orders.
Senate Bill 311 has won support in both the Ohio House and Senate. The legislation, if signed by the governor, would prohibit “the Department of Health (ODH) from issuing a general, mandatory statewide or regional quarantine or isolation order that applies to and is enforced against individuals who have not been either directly exposed to or medically diagnosed with the disease that is the subject of the order.”
Additionally, the measure would allow “the General Assembly to adopt a concurrent resolution to rescind certain ODH orders or rules for preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases.”
The Ohio Senate voted 20-13 in favor of SB 311 and the House passed the measure by a 58-32 count. Four Republican senators broke ranks and voted against it. The House tally was one vote shy of the number needed to override a veto. The House vote was strictly along party lines.
Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, said SB 311 “is about restoring checks and balances into our emergency health order process.”
“It will (if enacted) provide legislative oversight and transparency into any order,” McClain said. “We legislators are the ones who come from all the various communities around the state and who are sent to Columbus to provide that input. … This is not an attack on public health, this is a demand to have a seat at the table to fulfill our Constitutional duty.”
DeWine pulled no punches in his assessment of SB 311, calling the measure “a disaster” during his Nov. 19 press conference.
“I know it’s well-intended by the General Assembly, but when you look at the ramifications, this is not a bill that can become law,” DeWine said. “These experts are telling me this is a dangerous idea. Doctors, nurses, and scientists have all advised me that this bill would do great harm if it became law. For that reason, if SB 311 passes, I will veto it.
“Worse yet: Imagine if a country hostile to the U.S. smuggles a biological agent into our state and unleashes it on one of our military sites. Ohio would need to quickly quarantine the area. This bill would make Ohio slow to respond in crisis. It would put our citizens in danger.”
Trish Factor, commissioner of the Galion City Health Department, said the authority granted to the governor and state health officials by the Ohio Revised Code is necessary to facilitate rapid response to emergency situations, like pandemics.
“I totally understand wanting there to be checks and balances and such, but typically these scenarios are urgent, something has to be done quickly,” Factor said. “If not, more people can pass. That’s truly one of the biggest goals of public health, maintaining a healthy community. In any type of disaster response … we’re doing our best to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible, and then trying to make sure that everything else can fall into place.”
McClain noted that he and other lawmakers who supported SB 311 did so in response to what they’ve been hearing from a majority of their constituents.
“For months and months, I’ve heard from Ohioans who feel like their voice has not been heard,” he said. “I have felt for months that my voice as their rep has not been effective. I don’t doubt the governor is taking action from good intention, but my hope is that through this bill the citizen voice can be inserted into this process and carry the weight that it should.”