It took more than a year, but the Ohio legislature finally managed to clip Gov. Mike DeWine’s wings when it comes to his overreaching COVID-19 mandates. Ohioans are still suffering through DeWine’s draconian diktats, including an ongoing mask mandate, social-distancing rules, and crippling indoor dining regulations. One day after DeWine vetoed Senate Bill 22, the Senate voted 23-10 to override his veto. A short time later, the House voted 62-35 to do the same—the first time the legislature has overridden DeWine since he took office in 2019.
S.B. 22, which doesn’t take effect for 90 days, grants the legislature the authority to cancel emergency health orders with the adoption of a concurrent resolution. While aimed at Gov. DeWine, the new law changes the rules for orders emanating from the health department, which DeWine, a Republican, has used to keep the state locked down for more than a year. The new language further states that the health department “shall not reissue that special or standing order or rule or rescinded portion thereof… for a period of 60 days following the adoption of a concurrent resolution striking them down.”
The bill also limits the power of local health officials to force people to self-quarantine without a specific medical diagnosis. It also gives Ohioans the right to challenge the constitutionality of state health orders in a court of law, and to recover legal costs.
In addition, S.B. 22 creates the Ohio health oversight and advisory committee consisting of (1) Three members of the Senate appointed by the president of the Senate, two of whom are members of the majority party and one of whom is a member of the minority party; (2) Three members of the House of Representatives appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, two of whom are members of the majority party and one of whom is a member of the minority party, to evaluate health orders.
Jack Windsor at The Ohio Star summarized all the provisions of the legislation:
- 90-day limit to declarations of health emergency unless General Assembly [both houses of the legislature] chooses to extend
- General Assembly can act to rescind emergency declarations after 30 days with a concurrent resolution
- Orders and agency rules can be rescinded immediately by concurrent resolution of the House and Senate
- Oversight of orders applies to all state agencies, not just the Ohio Department of Health
- Oversight of orders applies to not just the Governor, but every state employee empowered to issue an emergency rule or order
- Ohioans who contest an order, rule or mandate will have the court case heard in their home county, as opposed to a Franklin County court
- Ohioans who bring legal action against rules, orders and mandates will be reimbursed for legal fees if the citizen wins the case
- Health departments cannot issue public health emergency orders or rules against a broad group or class of people – SB22 defines quarantine and isolation and thus applies lockdown restrictions to people infected or in direct contact with a medically diagnosed person
- Health orders have no automatic expiration date – a 120-day expiration is already part of Ohio Revised Code
S.B. 22 rightly restores checks and balances in the state. This should have been happening all along, but DeWine and his health department officials have used an archaic section of Ohio law that granted the health department “ultimate authority” to rule during a pandemic. It was a terrible law to begin with, and it’s shocking that it’s taken the Ohio legislature so long to get rid of it.
No one person, or one unelected agency, should have the power to lock down 11.69 million citizens—destroying businesses, livelihoods, and the mental health of its people. No governor should be allowed to tell you that you can’t be with your spouse or grandparent when he takes his dying breath. No governor should have the power to close every school in the state and force kids to learn via a computer screen. All of this goes against the principles of our republican form of government, where the legislature is a check on the governor and vice versa.
Half the state of Ohio has either had a reported case of COVID-19 or has been vaccinated for it. Even more Ohioans have had unreported cases or are at very low risk of becoming sick from the virus. It’s time for the mask mandate to end, for children to return to school, and for businesses to be allowed to operate at full capacity. DeWine shouldn’t wait 90 days for the law to go into effect. He should end the mandates now and allow Ohioans to get back to their normal lives.