DeWine Rejects COVID Fine Give-Back

Gov. Mike DeWine put the brakes on a plan from Ohio lawmakers to give back the money paid by businesses for violating COVID restrictions. It came during the height of the health emergency in 2020 when DeWine at first shut down most non-essential businesses and later placed a curfew on bars and restaurants. For a time, no alcohol could be served past 10 p.m. Any businesses caught violating the restrictions were subject to fines from the state. Bars and restaurants also faced suspension or loss of their state liquor license.

State lawmakers responded with a give-back plan. They inserted into the state budget bill a clause that called for any COVID fines to be returned to the business. DeWine vetoed that portion of the budget Thursday, ending the give-back.

“It really is not fair and would not be fair for 99 plus percent of retailers, people who played by the rules,” DeWine said.

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DeWine noted that the business community was involved in the discussion of the restrictions. While critics said repeatedly that the Governor went too far during the crisis and damaged the state’s economy, DeWine said the short-term financial pain was worth the long-term gain of returning the state’s economy to a healthy position with the number of COVID cases in decline by early this year.

At his budget briefing Thursday, flanked by some of the same lawmakers who voted for the COVID fine give-backs, DeWine said allowing those payments to violators would be a big mistake.

“It would send a horrible, horrible, horrible message,” DeWine said. 

DeWine and his Budget Director, Kim Murnieks, said the budget signed into law early Thursday is dramatically different from the one envisioned a year ago at the height of the health emergency. Back then the state’s economy was slipping as a result of the shutdowns and DeWine made budget cuts and ordered a state hiring freeze.

For a while it appeared DeWine would have to dip into the state rainy day fund to keep the books balanced and avoid state employee layoffs. But it never came to those more drastic measures and the rainy day fund remained untouched. A year later, Murnieks said the state is now in much better shape.

The new budget includes $2 billion in tax cuts, $2 billion in new money for schools and at the same time Ohio has a balance of $1.5 billion as it enters the new fiscal year. DeWine said the $74 billion spending plan continues the priorities of his administration and builds upon his first budget two years ago with more investment in schools, children, workforce development and other economic programs. “This budget reflects what we value,” DeWine said.