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Coronavirus In Ohio: GOP Lawmakers Release Competing Plan To Reopen Economy

Andrea Duncan protests the closure of Ohio businesses at the Statehouse.
David Holm
Andrea Duncan protests the closure of Ohio businesses at the Statehouse.

A group of Republican lawmakers pre-empted Gov. Mike DeWine in announcing a framework for reopening Ohio’s economy, followed soon after by a plan from Democrat legislators.

The GOP proposal, conceived by state Rep. Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason), has drawn the support of more than 30 members of the Ohio House's Economic Recovery Task Force.

Their four-page “Open Ohio Responsibly” framework released Monday represents an alternative to the governor's plans to slowly lift restrictions, contending that every business around the state should be given the opportunity to re-open on or before May 1. 

The plan lists a series of guiding principles: every business is essential; the state’s health care system is past the stage of concern; and Ohioans are by and large responsible citizens capable of going about their business safely.

"We believe it is time to trust Ohioans," the document reads. "They have respectfully followed the guidelines and NOW is the time to responsibly open all businesses."

The plan refers businesses to follow CDC guidelinesfor re-opening, and envisions the governor issuing further direction to counties. Under the plan, the governor’s task force would monitor progress and share best practices as they develop.

Zeltwanger’s plan asserts that, by putting prevention in the hands of citizens, there will be greater buy-in for the initiative.

Still, the proposal flies in the face of near-constant warnings from Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton and other health officials. State leaders have consistently cautioned against public gatherings, because of COVID-19’s ease of transmission and the lack of adequate testing to track and manage spread.

While Zeltwanger’s plan acknowledges the threat to the elderly and immune-compromised individuals, its only recommendation is that those populations continue to shelter in place.

The plan is also silent on how potential hot spots like prisons or nursing homes should manage the virus. Because of the potential for community spread, Acton and other health officials have argued reducing transmission will only work with drastic reductions in person-to-person interaction.

The proposal says it respects “individuals, business owners and employees’ rights to choose how to protect themselves and their loved ones,” and that some businesses won’t feel ready to return to work safely. But it doesn’t wade into potential disputes if an employer wants to re-open but employees are worried that safety provisions don’t go far enough.

"Businesses/organizations recognize if they do not make it safe for their employees and customers, they will not come back," the document reads.

Local health authorities in Central Ohio have fielded hundreds of complaints related to workplace safety for the businesses deemed essential that have been operating through the shutdown.

Zeltwanger chairs the House’s Ohio 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force, but the slate of proposals he introduced Monday is separate of whatever recommendations that task force will recommend.

Clashing Ideas

Just hours later, House Democrats released a proposal of their own, billed as “A Responsible Restart for Ohio.” Their plan outlines 10 items where they want to see a detailed policy roadmap as the economy begins reopening.  Topping the list are testing, contact tracing and hygiene.

But the proposal also takes up secondary concerns tied to the virus, like the need for more child care and contingency plans for November’s election.

The Democrats’ plan also lays out a number of provisions meant to protect workers as they return to the job. Some of those are in line with the recommendations already in place for essential businesses, like temperature checks, masks and other protective equipment. Others, like paid sick and family leave, are longstanding Democratic policy demands.

The plans start from a contrasting set of assumptions. The GOP-led proposal assumes the primary threat is past, and there should be a sort of presumption of autonomy for citizens and businesses.

The Democratic proposal, meanwhile, starts from the idea that COVID-19 remains a very real threat that could escalate without proper management. In response, they propose a cautious approach constrained by the state’s ability to adequately detect the virus’ spread.

DeWine is scheduled to outline his plan for reopening Ohio's economy at Monday's 2 p.m. press conference. The state's stay-at-home order and closure of essential businesses are currently slated to expire Friday, May 1.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.