Health orders bill was irresponsible

Published 11:59 am Saturday, April 3, 2021

Last week, the Ohio legislature voted to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a bill that changes how health orders in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic operate in the state of Ohio.

The law, the first override of DeWine’s term, would give the legislature the ability to reject or modify health orders issued by the governor, as well as extend or end a state of emergency declared by the executive branch.

It passed with overwhelming support from DeWine’s own Republican Party, who hold majorities in both houses of the legislature.

And it saw full support from the delegation here in our region. The bill was introduced by Sen. Terry Johnson and sponsored by Rep. Brian Baldridge, whose districts cover part of Lawrence County, and was supported by Sen. Bob Peterson and Rep. Jason Stephens, who also represent the county.

The troubling thing about this legislation is that it takes emergency decisions, which are carried out by a governor, and then subjects them to the whims and political machinations of the legislative branch, which in many levels of government is known for gridlock partisanship and political pettiness.

This could lead to major impediments in readiness in a future crisis. While the state currently has one party dominating these two branches, one can easily imagine a scenario where a governor of one party would see obstruction and interference from an opposing party controlling the legislature.

Supporters of the bill have framed their efforts under the argument that they are giving voice to the people, stating that elected representatives will be more receptive to a public demand to curb the governor’s orders.

But the fact is, there was no major public demand for this. Polling has shown that the public heavily approves of DeWine’s handling of the pandemic.

Most Ohioans are reasonable and realize we are in a historic public health crisis, facing a highly-contagious and deadly virus, and that the governor is taking necessary steps to curb the spread of the virus. They know these measures, such as a mask mandate or limits on public gatherings, are not being done simply as a way to get his kicks, and do not buy into the false and conspiratorial talk circulating among fringe media.

Despite disproportionate media coverage of extremists who protested during last spring’s shutdown and did things such as march on the former director of health’s home, those who want to drop the current safeguards remain a loud minority, comprised mostly of individuals from the far rightwing of the Republican Party.

But the fact that legislators are catering to this segment so heavily is illustrative of a larger problem in government.

Due to polarization of politics, gerrymandering of districts and the fact that most seats are not competitive in general elections, we are in a situation where politicians are less concerned with the views of the general public, and instead react heavily to the base of their own party, who vote in a primary where they are more vulnerable.

As such, we have a Republican majority in the legislature that does not take into account the views of Democrats and independents and puts more weight on the portion of their own party railing against health measures.

Lawmakers should be listening to health experts, especially given the rise in cases these past two weeks, rather than make a health matter into a partisan football.

The bill will not take effect for 90 days. We can hope that the situation has improved with COVID-19 in our state before the political jockeying kicks in with this law.

The nation has been fortunate to not see a pandemic like this in almost a century. Given long-term history, it is highly likely the next one will not wait so long.

In the meantime, we urge lawmakers to please reconsider this irresponsible legislation and work to improve it.

While oversight and accountability is a good thing, the law as it exists puts political interests, which could slow or impede a speedy reaction to an emergency, above those of health interests and could seriously cause major complications in any further crisis that may arise.