DeWine vetoes bill that would limit power of public health orders



Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed Thursday a bill that would limit the power of public health orders and it’s unclear if both legislative chambers have the votes needed to override the veto.

Senate Bill 311 calls for curtailing the Ohio Department of Health’s authority to order quarantine and isolation as a means of containing the spread of infectious diseases. It would block ODH from issuing statewide quarantine orders for people who aren’t ill or haven’t been directly exposed to an infectious disease. It would also give lawmakers the ability to rescind state public health orders.

In his veto message, DeWine said medical experts believe the bill would restrict public health officials’ ability to react to health crises.

“Having essential strategies to protect the public against the spread of infectious, contagious disease is not only important in our efforts to eradicate COVID-19, but it is also necessary to help stop the spread of all infectious diseases and prevent future health crises in Ohio,” DeWine said in his message.

State law on the books since 1886 gives the state health director broad powers to order isolation and quarantine as a means to protect public health. Enforcement can be carried out by state and local heath departments and law enforcement.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said this week that his chamber has the 20 votes needed and could hold an override vote before the two-year legislative session ends later this month. He added that he has been in discussion with the DeWine administration about finding common ground.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said he is uncertain whether there are the necessary 60 votes to override a gubernatorial veto since the bill passed the House by 58 votes but several lawmakers were absent.

DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health have aggressively used statewide orders to mandate masks, limit gatherings, close schools and shut nonessential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic this year. Those moves triggered pushback from conservatives who view it as government overreach and an infringement on individual rights.

In July, DeWine vetoed another bill that sought to curtail public health authority. Lawmakers have until the end of December to hold override votes on that veto.

Lawmakers have debated other bills that seek to curtail public health measures, including House Bill 621, which passed the House 77-11 last month. It would allow businesses shut down by a state order to reopen if they follow the same safety protocols as essential businesses that are allowed to remain operating.

Obhof is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 374, which seeks to reinstate the 2 a.m. last call for bars. DeWine had ordered a 10 p.m. last call rule, which has since expired and been replaced by a mandate that bars and restaurants close by 10 p.m.

Ohio has 23,000 bars and restaurants that employ 585,000 workers, according to the Ohio Restaurant Association.

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