Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine received an outpouring of support from health professionals earlier this week when he vetoed Senate Bill 22 that would have allowed state lawmakers to randomly rescind public health orders that they did not like or want to follow.
The veto was no surprise and vital to protecting the effectiveness of our current public health system that is in place to quickly deal with life-threatening situations. The bill would have limited actions by the executive branch as well as state, county and city health agencies.
With this bill, the Republican dominated General Assembly put politics over the welfare of 11.7 million Ohioans.
The Ohio House and Senate likely will gather quickly in an attempt to override this veto, if they have not already done so by the time this editorial reaches your doorstep.
Gov. DeWine, a Republican, said he attempted to reach a compromise with GOP lawmakers, to no avail.
The governor said the bill puts public safety in jeopardy and goes beyond issues linked to the coronavirus pandemic. “SB 22 strikes at the heart of local health departments’ ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face,” Gov. DeWine said in his veto message.
The legislation is short-sighted. Ohio will face other health crises in the future. Few imagined a virus would shut down the world, as we have experienced over the past year with the coronavirus pandemic. Did we foresee that in a year’s time 30 million people in the U.S. (1 million in Ohio) would be stricken with COVID-19 and 543,000 would die (18,382 in Ohio)?
Who can tell what is on the horizon? Ohio needs a quick, nimble system to tackle future emergencies.
GOP leaders said the bill was designed to adjust the framework of how the state government could respond to a public health crisis by having legislative oversight of the executive branch.
They in essence want to restrict Gov. DeWine’s ability to issue orders.
The bill would allow the General Assembly to reverse emergency health orders and stop the reissuing of a given order for at least two months. Because this would be a “concurrent resolution” by legislators, Gov. DeWine and future governors would not have the power to override the action. Some legal experts say this provision may be unconstitutional since lawmakers can only enact laws through bills, not resolutions.
If there is an override, this issue could end up in court.
The bill also limits a governor’s state of emergency to 30 days, prevents local health boards from issuing widespread quarantine orders and creates a six-member committee of lawmakers who would meet with health officials and then make recommendations to the House and Senate. Can you imagine how long that would take? Health emergencies need to be met with quick action.
Numerous health officials expressed alarm over the bill and called for a veto. Among them was Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade who questioned whether state lawmakers understand the science of public health.
University Hospitals of Cleveland CEO Dr. Cliff A. Megerian said changing the current system could negatively impact swift actions taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Yes, every aspect of living has been impacted by the pandemic, including businesses.
The Ohio Nurses Association, in its call for a veto, pointed out that an economy can only recover if it has a healthy workforce. A bill allowing state lawmakers to rescind health orders could result in a piece-meal approach to public health, according to ONA.
The Ohio State Medical Association and five other statewide medical groups in a joint letter said changing the way Ohio is responding to the crisis would cause confusion.
The Association of Ohio Health Commissioners pointed out other situations where local health boards need to react quickly, including bioterrorism, food borne illnesses, lead poisoning, rabies or the West Nile Virus. These and other situations take fast action as well as preventive measures that health boards address regularly without us even noticing.
We urge the General Assembly to listen to the health experts and let SB 22 just go away.