COLUMBUS — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is locked in a showdown with state lawmakers over who calls the shots on the state’s response to the coronavirus. It comes as new cases remain high and there is a surge of hospital patients with the virus. Data released Friday by the Ohio Department of Health showed 8,808 new COVID-19 cases statewide within the last 24 hour reporting period and an additional 398 people hospitalized in that same period. The ODH cautioned though that the data is incomplete because “thousands of cases are being reviewed.”
DeWine is promising a veto of SB 311, a plan from Republicans in the legislature to limit the governor and state health director from issuing long-running health orders like the one that came on March 22, 2020. On that day, DeWine stood at a Statehouse podium and announced a dramatic step forward in the state’s attempt to stem the virus spread across the state. Referring to his then-state health director, Dr. Amy Acton, DeWine said, “Dr. Acton has just signed a stay at home order for all Ohioans.”
The order ran until early April and forced many businesses to close, throwing tens of thousands of people out of work. Only businesses deemed “essential” by the state were permitted to remain open.
That touched off waves of protest inside and outside of the Statehouse. Demonstrators carrying signs called for both DeWine and Acton to be fired and jailed. The protestors banged on the Statehouse windows so hard that the media center for the governor’s briefings was moved to the lower level of the Statehouse so that the noise could not be heard during the briefing broadcasts when reporters asked questions.
Fast forward to this week when lawmakers put the finishing touches on SB 311. The House manager of the bill, Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, said “This ensures that no orders will be issued under the Health Director’s authority to restrict freedoms of health Ohioans who have not been exposed.” Gov. DeWine promised a veto once the bill reaches his desk. “There is testimony from medical experts that this is very dangerous,” DeWine said. His response included a statement that the bill would limit the current and future administration’s ability to act quickly in the event of a natural or health disaster.
Rep. Fred Strahorn, D- Dayton said he opposes the bill but expects majority Republicans in both the House and Senate will have the votes to override the governor’s veto. “When we do this we send the general public mixed messages. More than half of the legislature doesn’t take this (the virus) seriously,” Strahorn said.
Earlier in the week, the House passed HB 621, which declares that all businesses in Ohio are “essential.” It would prohibit all businesses in Ohio, regardless of their size, scope or purpose from being shut down by the Governor again during a health emergency. That bill is about to be taken up by the Ohio Senate.
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