A bill restricting governors' abilities to issue public health orders during a pandemic is unconstitutional and a violation of the separation of powers, according to Gov. Mike DeWine, who plans to veto the latest legislation headed for his desk while holding out hope for a compromise.
The GOP-controlled House approved the final version of the bill Wednesday, and it now heads to DeWine with what his fellow Republican legislative leaders believe is a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
The measure is the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to rein in DeWine's authority to issue statewide orders such as mandatory mask wearing and limits on the size of crowds at sporting events.
Among other provisions, the bill limits public health orders to 90 days and would allow the Legislature to terminate them after 30 days with a “concurrent resolution,” a fast-tracked vote different from normal legislation.
The bill “is about giving the citizens of Ohio a voice in matters of public health and restoring the natural separation of powers that should exist in any form of government,” said bill sponsor Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican from Napoleon.
DeWine vetoed a similar measure late last year and on Thursday said he would veto the latest bill, as well. As Ohio emerges from the pandemic, the concern now is limiting governors' powers going forward, the governor said.
“I’m very concerned abut a future governor and health departments around the state not having the tools they need to keep the people of the state safe,” DeWine said.
Allowing legislatures to overturn a governor's order with by resolution and not actual legislation is “clearly unconstitutional,” DeWine added.
The governor took particular issue with a bill requirement that public health departments could not quarantine individuals unless they had direct contract with someone who has been “medically diagnosed with a communicative or contagious disease.”
Such a mandate could have devastating consequences if an overseas traveler arrived with possible exposure to a highly contagious disease like Ebola but couldn't provide such rigorous documentation of contact, the governor said.
“Do we really want that person to be mixing with society, possibly sealing the medical fate of hundreds and hundreds of people?” DeWine said. “This bill would say that that local health department could not stop that person from doing that.”
While DeWine said he still hopes to reach a compromise with lawmakers, Senate President Matt Huffman said he'll schedule an override vote the moment DeWine vetoes the measure.
“The Governor’s office can still issue health orders during times of emergency," said Huffman, a Lima Republican. "This simply puts the people at the table to not only monitor but also be part of the process.”
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