Fairness Act reaches Gov. DeWine’s desk

Coronavirus cases climb again

By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

COLUMBUS — As coronavirus cases climb again in Ohio, a bill has reached Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk that would ensure that state government cannot again order one business to shut down during a health emergency while allowing a competitor that has been deemed “essential” to keep its doors open.

“All businesses are deemed essential with this bill …,” said Rep. Jon Cross (R., Kenton), who sponsored House Bill 215 with Rep. Shane Wilkin (R., Hillsboro).

“We can’t be picking winners and losers,” Cross said. “All businesses are essential. All employees are essential.”

The Ohio Senate recently voted unanimously to send the bill to DeWine’s desk. Spokesman Dan Tierney said he will sign it.

House Bill 215 passed the House by a vote of 77-17 in May and is a rare example of strong bipartisan support for a measure designed to clip the future powers of a governor and his administration during a health emergency such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The bill is supported by business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

In future emergencies, the so-called “Business Fairness Act” would allow a business to remain open as long as it uses the same safety precautions to protect its workers and customers that are used by a competitor that was deemed “essential” and was allowed to keep operating.

It is aimed at decisions by the government to close smaller specialty stores while allowing competing large box-stores like Walmart to stay open because they also sell food, supplies or other “essential” products that Ohioans need during a health emergency.

A similar bill passed the House last session but went nowhere in the Senate after DeWine raised objections. Democrats have generally defended the Republican governor’s powers during a health emergency, opposing other GOP-backed bills allowing lawmakers to undo or revise such orders.

But, with the economic shutdown now in the rearview mirror, many in the minority broke with the governor on this one.

Businesses argued that much more is known now about how to prevent the spread of the virus than when the economic shutdown was ordered in March 2020, and that personal protective equipment such as face masks that were once in short supply are now widely available.

Ohioans also have access to multiple vaccines that have proven effective in preventing serious illness. Most new hospitalizations and deaths these days are among the unvaccinated.

“I’m glad we got it done,” Cross said. “It’s about the future, making sure we send a strong message that, if one starts a business here in Ohio, they and their employees can understand that they will stay open and have their jobs. That’s a good economic message to send.

“Businesses are making decisions about where they want to grow, and I think this is a good economic development message,” that regardless of a pandemic, Ohio will remain open for business,” he said.

DeWine has shown no inclination to reimpose a lockdown on businesses and other activity despite subsequent surges in coronavirus infections that eclipsed the wave that led to his first order.

The state’s health director, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, has warned that Ohio may already be in the early stages of a new surge of the delta variant as infection rates have been on the rise in recent weeks going into the holiday season and winter months.

Coronavirus cases climb again

By Jim Provance

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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