Senate rejects bid to limit pandemic powers

Published 2:58 pm Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Center Square

COLUMBUS – The state Senate denied a bid to give lawmakers oversight of pandemic orders issued by the Ohio Department of Health.

The state Senate unanimously rejected an amended version of Senate Bill 1, which the House passed by a 58-37 margin earlier this month. The bill tackles regulations in the state, but a provision added by the House targets orders issued by ODH Director Amy Acton, which have shuttered businesses deemed nonessential across the Buckeye State amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The measure would give oversight of ODH orders to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, a 10-member committee comprised of House and Senate members.

“I always favor legislative oversight since members of the legislature serve as the direct line to government for Ohioans,” Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, said in a floor statement posted to her Facebook page. “And I think that generally Republicans and Democrats in the legislature agree with that premise, however during this uncertain time, unfortunately politics are getting in the way.”

Proponents of the House proposal argued a law dating to 1908 grants the state’s health director broad authority without legislative oversight. Opponents countered, saying the provision the House passed went too far.

“I voted no on Sub. S.B. 1 because Ohioans’ health and safety MUST come before politics,” Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said in a tweet, adding that “even one death is too many to justify removing the most precious tool from our public safety tool box.”

Two other bills pending before lawmakers also seek to limit ODH powers.

Senate Bill 311, sponsored by state Sens. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, would immediately reopen the state. It would also require the governor to sign any shutdown orders.

State Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, R-Paris Township, introduced another piece of legislation, House Bill 649, to give lawmakers oversight of ODH pandemic orders and limit orders to 30 days. It would also bar entities other than the General Assembly from delaying state or local elections.

“Every legislator has taken the oath to uphold the Ohio Constitution and [it is] time we fulfill our duty and act on this important legislation,” Stoltzfus said in a news release.