COLUMBUS — Legislation originally introduced by a local state senator that was amended this month to check the power of the state’s director of health has been sent to a conference committee in the Ohio Statehouse.
Senate Bill 1 — originally brought forward last year by Ohio 1st District Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon to trim government regulations, but never coming up for a final vote — was amended by the Ohio House of Representatives by a 58-36 vote along party lines on May 6.
The legislation then went back to the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate for consideration. It was unanimously rejected Wednesday, but only for procedural reasons that will allow some wording changes, according to McColley.
During an interview Thursday, he indicated that one of the proposed changes seeks to limit the authority of the Ohio governor and state director of health to postpone an election, as the current director, Dr. Amy Acton, did one day before the March 17 primary.
The conference committee will try to work out any differences between the Senate and House versions of the legislation. It could then return to the Senate and House for final votes.
Should the bill pass in both chambers of the legislature, it would go to Gov. Mike DeWine to be signed into law, but his veto is expected. Sixty percent support would be needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
“Let me be clear that I fully support the premise and goals of Senate Bill 1, and I applaud the House for sending the bill to the Senate with the changes therein, which is why yesterday’s decision to send the bill to conference committee was a difficult one,” McColley said in a statement. “However, in the past couple weeks I have been made aware of some ambiguous and unclear language that needs fixed in order to avoid unintended consequences.
“Further, this bill also should include language making it very clear that neither the director of the department of health or the governor have the authority to close polling locations for the upcoming general election,” added McColley. “I realize that time is of the essence, but we must get this right. It is my view that the Senate and the House should meet for conference committee as soon as possible to make the necessary changes that will preserve the core of the bill, but remove any potential for unintended consequences. “
According to Ohio 82nd House District Rep. Craig Riedel of Defiance, who supported Amended Senate Bill 1, “the reason most of the conservative (Senate) Republicans voted not to concur” Wednesday is “they felt the amendment was technically flawed in the way that it was written. Essentially, most of them agree with the concept of putting legislative oversight over the director of health’s emergency orders during a pandemic, but they feel that the language in Amended Senate Bill 1 can be improved.”
The amendment as introduced earlier this month would require the director of health to receive approval for extending emergency orders from the 10-person Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. The existing panel is composed of five Ohio House members and five Ohio Senate members from each party.