COLUMBUS — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday vetoed a GOP-backed bill that would limit Ohio governors’ ability to issue orders during a public health emergency, a move promising a showdown with members of his party who have vowed to override him.
DeWine made good on his earlier promise to veto the latest iteration of the proposal, marking the second time in four months the longtime officeholder has shut down attempts by his fellow Republicans to limit his powers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The executive action came one day after DeWine sent a letter to Rep. Scott Wiggam, of Wooster, pleading with him and majority Republicans to reach a compromise on the proposal.
The bill “jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan,” DeWine said in Tuesday’s veto message. He added that the legislation “strikes at the heart of local health departments’ ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face.”
The Senate bill in question would allow state lawmakers to rescind public health orders issued by the governor or the Ohio Department of Health as soon as they take effect, as well as prevent the governor from reintroducing similar orders for at least 60 days. The bill would also limit state of emergency orders to a period of 90 days but allow lawmakers to extend them in 60-day increments indefinitely.
The legislation would cripple the state’s ability to address an emerging public health crisis and open up local health departments to lawsuits by anyone who disagrees with their enforcement actions, DeWine says.
But Republican lawmakers supporting the bill say it will bring checks and balances back to state government.
“One branch of government is not meant to have unchecked and unfettered authority over our entire society for an undefined period of time,” bill sponsor Sen. Rob McColley, a Napoleon Republican, told The Columbus Dispatch. “Really these changes are in response to what we perceived as a shortcoming in the Ohio code.”
Multiple Ohio hospital and health systems, public health departments and the state’s major associations of doctors and nurses have all sided with the governor.
Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the top House Democrat, also backed DeWine’s veto. The legislation threatens Ohio’s ability to respond quickly to coronavirus outbreaks and variants “by slowing our response, putting more lives at risk and further destabilizing our economy,” Sykes said.
On Monday, DeWine said, without providing any details, that he sent House and Senate leadership a compromise last weekend that would include their concerns for legislative oversight.
Wiggam disputed DeWine’s concerns in a five-page response sent Tuesday. He argued that the governor’s what-if scenarios were inaccurate and noted that the federal government and not local health boards would have authority over serious health emergencies such as a disease outbreak that originated in another country.
“This type of autocratic rule must be checked by the Legislature and should be tested in the courts because I believe it is not only unacceptable, it is also unconstitutional,” Wiggam said.
A Republican override vote could come as soon as Wednesday.