DeWine, statehouse at odds over Department of Health powers

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — As coronavirus cases in Ohio surge, state lawmakers are working on bills that would change the way the Ohio Department of Health could issue health orders.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday during a stop in Columbus that “this is certainly not the right time to be trying to diminish public health in the state of Ohio. This is a direct attack on public health.” DeWine was commenting on House Bill 671, which passed the House this week and would allow businesses to remain open, despite an order from ODH, if they follow safety precautions.

“We’re trying to make sure there’s proper checks and balances in this whole process,” said Rep. Jon Cross, (R-Kenton).

On Thursday, Senate Bill 311 passed out of the legislature. That bill stops ODH from issuing quarantine orders to people who have not been infected by a disease and also allows lawmakers to rescind orders from ODH.

“The bill, if enacted, would severely limit the ability of the Department of Health to issue orders necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” DeWine said Thursday.

Republican lawmakers said these bills aren’t dangerous; what is dangerous is having a governor who does not answer to the other branches of government.

“I understand that he has to act fast,” Cross said. “We’re not trying to stop him from any mandates or executive orders. We’re just trying to make sure that we step in when we believe there’s an unconstitutional mandate or an order that would be better suited for the legislature.”

Democratic Representative Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), whose county was the first to reach a level four on the state’s advisory map this week, said now is not the time for these bills.

“We’re passing legislation that completely cuts off at the knees the ability of our public health officials to do their jobs and I think that it’s entirely reckless and frankly just completely out of touch with what’s happening right now in our state,” Russo said.

DeWine said he plans to veto Senate Bill 311. It is unknown if the legislature will vote to override that veto.

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