COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday vetoed a bill seeking to strip the Ohio Department of Health director and local health officials from enforcing health orders, as he previously said he would.
Senate Bill 55 originally increased penalties on drug trafficking within 1,000 feet of a treatment center. But it was amended in the House, and accepted by a majority in the Senate, to decriminalize violations of public health orders. Statehouse Republicans passed the bill partially as a rebuke to former ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton.
Currently, people who violate the orders face a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable with up to 30 days behind bars and a fine of up to $750. SB 55 amended it to make the orders a minor misdemeanor, with a warning for first-time offenders and a fine of up to $150.
“In the midst of this pandemic, now is not the time to change tactics and impede local health officials’ ability to protect all Ohioans,” DeWine wrote in his veto message to lawmakers.
DeWine said he liked the original idea of the bill, called the Relapse Reduction Act. But he couldn’t sign the bill with the public health provisions.
“A robust public health system protects us from E-coli and Legionella outbreaks, threats of bioterrorism, or once-in-century pandemics,” DeWine wrote.
Lawmakers could override the veto, but it takes a three-fifths affirming vote in each legislative chamber. The Senate would be the first to hold a veto override vote and would need at least 20 votes before the bill would go to the House for an override.
However, after SB 55 was amended in the House, the Senate concurred with only 18 votes, making an override unlikely.
“Just receiving it today, our members are going to review it and have an internal discussion about the path forward,” said John Fortney, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, who control the chamber.
Fortney added that senators may have discussions with the DeWine administration over how to resurrect the part of the bill centering on drug trafficking outside treatment centers.