Local officials react to proposed bills holding health boards accountable, terminating mask orders

Legislation has been proposed that would allow Ohio’s 88 boards of county commissioners the authority to terminate or modify any countywide order issued by a county Board of Health.

State Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, introduced the legislation Thursday which he says would hold county health boards accountable for countywide health orders. If adopted by the General Assembly, a countywide order from a board of health could be terminated or modified through a simple resolution approved by a board of county commissioners.

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“Unelected boards need to be held accountable by elected officials, such as our county commissioners who are chosen by the people they serve, to make decisions,” said Householder. “This bill adds a well-deserved balance between the people and the unelected board, something our state so desperately needs during these times we’ve been facing.”

The legislation notes that the order or regulation issued by a county board of health must apply throughout the general health district in order for a board of county commissioners to terminate or modify the order.

In the past, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has vetoed bills that would limit the power of public health orders.

Another COVID-19 bill expected to be introduced this week by state Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum would terminate the statewide mask mandate in Ohio.

“Sixteen states currently do not have a statewide mask mandate,” Powell said. “These states are thriving economically, mentally, and emotionally.”

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Powell’s proposed legislation would prohibit any statewide mask mandates by the governor or any department director during the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency, unless approved by the General Assembly.

“Cases are decreasing dramatically, and vaccine distribution is increasing rapidly,” she said. “This bill supports individual freedom, and allows Ohioans to make the choice of whether or not they voluntarily want to wear a mask.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman, in her opinion and not speaking for her fellow commissioners, said she had not read the proposed legislation nor have they discussed it as a body. However, she did not think she could support it.

“We are partners with our health commissioner,” Lieberman said. “Anything he thinks is safe for our citizens, we should follow.”

While state officials have been criticized for the various statewide orders and mandates during the pandemic, Lieberman said, “they’re there for a reason.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.
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Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.

“They are the professionals in public health,” she said. “They’re not doing it to cause trouble. They’re doing it to save lives. I would never interfere with it.”

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On eliminating the mask mandate, Lieberman said said masks should be worn until the pandemic is over. She said local and state public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe wearing masks are still necessary.

“Wearing a mask should not be a political issue,” Lieberman said.

Warren County Commissioner David Young also had not seen the proposed bills when contacted Friday afternoon.

Young said he likes the idea of having more power over the orders of the county health board. He said when the pandemic started last year, the county health board was following the directives of the Ohio Department of Health.

“County commissioners know their populations better than Columbus does,” Young said. “Doesn’t make more sense for local officials to make those decisions?”

He said at the start of the pandemic, Warren County was the only county in southwest Ohio not to declare a state of emergency when the pandemic started a year ago.

Young said at the beginning of the pandemic it made sense to err on the side of caution to have the various health orders issued “when we knew nothing about it.

Dave Young is a Republican running for a fourth term as Warren County commissioner.
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Dave Young is a Republican running for a fourth term as Warren County commissioner.

“We’re a year into this and we know more about than we did last year,” he said.

He also noted the population density is lower in Warren County than it is in the more urban counties.

As for the mask mandate, Young said it’s “ridiculous” for people taking walks or who are outside be forced to wear a mask. He said it makes sense in a crowded building or on an airplane to wear a mask.

“I want government to provide the resources to empower individuals to take personal responsibility,” he said. “People understand much more about this than they did a year ago.”