COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine said he plans to veto a bill that would give lawmakers the authority to override health orders, calling the legislation unconstitutional and arguing it would cripple the state’s ability to respond to the next pandemic.
The governor said he tried to work with lawmakers on the bill, saying that he was briefly encouraged by changes in a previous version of the legislation that made it a bit more palatable. DeWine’s talks with lawmakers collapsed and the version passed Tuesday will be vetoed, the governor said.
“Throughout my career, I have found that I generally can get things done, make things happen, try to improve the status quo by working with people, and I still hold out some hope that we will be able to do this with the General Assembly. We talked about what the Senate did with the Bill and I said, ‘Look, it was an improvement.’ And, I was trying to create the environment so that we could have a discussion. And we had a discussion, but nothing really came of it after that,” DeWine said.
The veto is the latest sign of the deep division on COVID-19 issues between the governor and the members of his party in the Statehouse. The bill passed in the House by a 57-37 vote.
The Senate voted in favor of the bill on Feb. 17 with a vote of 25-8 and concurred with the House on the latest version Wednesday.
“There is no governor that I can think of in Ohio who would not have vetoed this bill, and I will have to veto it, not so much for me, certainly, because we’re coming out of this pandemic, but I’m very concerned about the future,” DeWine said.
He mentioned concerns about bioterrorism, the possibility of a worsening Ebola crisis, and fear that another pandemic could arrive in the state under future administrations.
“This is about the future and saving of lives, and it would be absolutely irresponsible for me to do anything but veto this bill,” DeWine said.
The governor alleged the bill is unconstitutional, claiming it violates the separation of powers.
If put into law, the bill would:
- Give lawmakers the ability to override health orders and state of emergency declarations
- Make any public health emergency declaration end after 90 days
- Allow lawmakers to end emergencies after 30 days if they wish
- Create a six-person committee with lawmakers from both chambers to serve as advisors on public health orders
- Prohibit local health departments from closing schools and businesses, as well as issue orders, like a ban on mass gatherings
- Allow residents to file lawsuits if they feel their constitutional rights have been affected negatively
Now that DeWine plans to veto the bill, Senate President Matt Huffman said this week he would schedule an override vote as quickly as possible.
The bill follows criticism over how DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) handled the state's response to the pandemic in the spring and into the summer. Lawmakers claim DeWine abused his power with the stay-at-home order, mask mandate and business shutdowns.
“Last year, we have witnessed an unprecedented government overreach. They shut small businesses, shuttered polling locations, ordered people to stay in their homes, sent students home, established curfews, made everyone wear face coverings, and much more -- many of this under financial penalties as well as jail time -- and all of this without legislative input or the voice of the people,” Sen. Kristina Roegner said on Thursday.
ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff testified against the bill twice, and it also received opposition from Democratic lawmakers, who voiced concerns that the bill would inhibit the state from protecting the wellbeing of residents in future public health crises.
DeWine said during his news conference Thursday afternoon that the strict rules for quarantines are among the most dangerous aspects of the legislation. He said the state would not have been able to quarantine two Miami University students who traveled back from Wuhan and developed flu-like symptoms. Had they been infected and not quarantined, hundreds of other students could have been exposed, he said.
Dr. Andrew Thomas, the chief clinical officer at the Ohio State University, also testified against the bill on Feb. 11 and said passing the bill would pose a danger to Ohioans since the state isn’t “out of the woods” yet with the discovery of variants.
DeWine echoed the same concern in previous press briefings, saying the variants could pose a great risk.
“As we look to the future, our concern is the variant,” DeWine said. “We don’t know what’s going on with that.”
But DeWine also said he understands why the General Assembly wants to be more involved in future decision-making and said he'd be willing to work with them to make it happen, but under circumstances that he said wouldn't jeopardize the health and safety of Ohioans.