COLUMBUS — An Ohio General Assembly bill limiting powers of top state officials during a pandemic will have to withstand a governor’s veto. But the votes may be there to override a veto, according to one local legislator.
The House passed that measure (Senate Bill 311) on Thursday, one day after it approved a bill (House Bill 621) that protects the interests of small businesses (see below).
SB 311 would limit Ohio Department of Health quarantine and isolation orders to those who are ill or have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The legislation had passed the Republican-controlled Senate in September by a 20-13 vote, before passing in the Republican-majority House on Thursday (58-32).
As co-sponsor of SB 311, Ohio 1st District Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon commented Thursday in a press release that “by voting for Senate Bill 311 the House voted to restore checks and balances and the natural separation of powers in our state government, while still acknowledging the executive branch has a role to play in public health emergencies. I thank my colleagues in the House for their support of this bill.”
He also told The Crescent-News Friday that “throughout this crisis, the executive branch has been exercising legislative authority in an unprecedented manner. While I do not question the governor’s motives, that is not how our government is supposed to work.”
The area’s three Ohio House representatives — Derek Merrin of Maumee (47th District), Jim Hoops of Napoleon (81st District) and Craig Riedel of Defiance (82nd House District) — all voted for SB 311.
“It’s long past time that the General Assembly reassert itself into this conversation,” said Riedel during an interview with The Crescent-News Friday. “From my viewpoint there are three main points from this bill that I really feel are extremely important.
“One, it does not hinder the state director of health and the governor to make quick, rapid-fire decisions in this pandemic situation,” he added. “Two ... this creates a check and balance system that is desperately needed in this situation, and number three, this bill, by allowing the General Assembly to have this oversight, brings the voice of Ohioans back into the conversation. That’s what my constituents for the last 6-7 months have been pleading. They want their voice to be heard. That means representatives and senators have to be part of that dialog.”
However, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an immediate statement announcing his intention to veto the bill.
“This bill would make Ohio slow to respond in a crisis and would put our citizens in severe danger,” he stated in a press release. “I’ve always listened to the advice of experts, and the experts are telling me this is a dangerous idea. Doctors, nurses and scientists have all advised me that this bill would do great harm if it became law.”
Riedel believes the Senate and House have enough votes to override the governor’s veto. Sixty percent support is needed in both chambers — meaning 60 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate.
Supporters of SB 311 expect no support from Democrats, but Republicans control the House, 61-38, and the Senate, 24-9.
“I’m extremely confident that we will have the minimum 60 votes to override the governor’s veto in the House,” said Riedel. “Rob and I are both very confident we will have the necessary 20 votes to override in the Senate as well.”
“I fully anticipate the legislature will have the votes necessary to override the governor’s veto,” McColley stated Friday.
The governor has a limited time to veto the bill, at which point it could return to the Senate first for override reconsideration.
In another matter, the House approved House Bill 621, 77-10, on Wednesday with 56 Republicans (including Hoops, Merrin and Riedel) and 21 Democrats in support. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
According to Riedel, it would prevent the state health director “from closing down any non-essential business” that sells a product that other businesses deemed “essential” — such as Walmart — sell. An example is a small jewelry store.
“It’s a pro-business bill with a real focus on small businesses that are considered non-essential, so they aren’t treated unfairly,” said Riedel.