Lawmakers try again to limit governor’s authority

COLUMBUS — As the state continues to set new records for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the divide between Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers on how to handle the virus is growing. First, lawmakers passed a plan to limit the DeWine’s ability to issue long-running health orders. That bill is facing a certain veto and potential legislative override. Now comes another effort to undo a health order issued months ago on operations at bars and restaurants.

The proposal, SB 347, comes from Senate President Larry Obhof, one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Square. It removes DeWine’s order that cuts off alcohol sales at bars and restaurants at 10 pm and mandates that any alcohol purchased must be consumed by 11 pm.

At a recent committee hearing on the bill, Obhof himself stepped-up to push for passage. “Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are employed by the restaurant industry. Ohio’s bars and restaurants are effected immensely by the pandemic and the restrictions placed on them by the state’s response,” Obhof said.

The proposal has the backing of businesses and trade organizations, including the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association. Association spokesman Andy Herf said in an interview with WHIO-TV that they feel businesses can handle customers safely if the 10 pm limit on sales is lifted. “We think it is the right thing to do. And it (the bill) just focuses on the 10 pm closures. It does not focus on social distancing, on cleaning and we think that is appropriate,” Herf said.

The moves to limit the governor’s authority come just as a handful of Ohio House members are pushing Articles of Impeachment to remove DeWine from office.

Rep. John Becker, R- Clermont County, leads the group of four that includes Rep. Nino Vitale, R- Urbana. The two other House members involved are Rep. Candice Keller, R- Middletown and Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R- Mason. The Articles of Impeachment were filed Monday.

In a written statement, Becker said he and others have tried to work with DeWine but the governor has instead vetoed legislation they sought to limit his authority. “Governor DeWine’s mismanagement, malfeasance, abuse of power and other crimes include, but are not limited to, meddling in the conduct of a presidential primary election, arbitrarily closing and placing curfews on certain businesses, while allowing other businesses to remain open,” Becker said.

When asked about the impeachment effort during his briefing Monday, DeWine vented his frustration with the lawmakers behind it and other people who do not take the virus seriously.

“At some point this foolishness has got to stop. I’m not talking about most Ohioans. I’m talking about a small number of people who just continue for whatever reason to think that this is… and act as if…. this is some big joke,” DeWine said.

Hearings on SB 347 continue on Wednesday, with a possible Senate vote this week or next week.