Ohio House passes measure to limit power of state health director
Ohio Republicans passed a bill Wednesday that would curtail the powers of the state’s health director in what was largely seen as a broadside against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The state House Republicans amended and passed a 2019 regulatory bill that would allow orders from Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton to last a maximum of 14 days. Should the bill become law, an order could only be prolonged if the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review approves an extension.
The bill also grants any person the ability to sue the government to rescind a health order without having to prove they were harmed by it.
Fifty-eight lawmakers voted to approve the bill, falling short of the supermajority needed to override a potential veto from DeWine. Two Republicans voted against the measure, and no Democrat supported it.
DeWine, who has sought to protect Acton from criticism and direct broadsides toward himself, panned the vote just minutes after it ended but did not explicitly say he’d veto the measure.
“My administration is focused on the important things we need to do to help businesses responsibly reopen while protecting Ohioans’ health and safety. This week alone, this included increasing coronavirus testing and tracing, balancing Ohio’s budget, and working on plans to move Ohio’s economy forward. Ohioans need their legislators focused on these important issues,” he said. “Creating more uncertainty regarding public health and employee safety is the last thing we need as we work to restore consumer confidence in Ohio’s economy.”
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) May 6, 2020
Republicans have defended the measure, saying they were trying to curtail what they say are the overly broad bounds of Acton’s authority.
“It seems to me that if we are going to complain about a lack of process here, we need to realize there has been precious little process there,” House Majority Leader Bill Seitz told Cleveland.com.
Democrats voiced concerns over the process, noting the amended language was not unveiled until Wednesday morning and warned that the joint committee that would review extension requests may not be well equipped to deal with emergency health matters.
“Adding an arbitrary 14-day limit to public health orders simply takes us backwards in our ability to protect the public’s health and national security,” said state Rep. Allison Russo (D). “It says to the public we do not trust health experts and safety experts to do their job efficiently and effectively in times of national and state crisis.”
DeWine has come under pressure to expedite the reopening of Ohio’s economy as protesters descended on the state capitol to demonstrate against his emergency measures and railed against Acton.
“I’m the elected official. I’m the one who ran for office, I’m the one who makes the policy decisions. Members of my Cabinet, Dr. Acton included, work exceedingly, exceedingly hard, but I set the policy,” he said this week.