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Coronavirus In Ohio: House Speaker Says He Can't Force Lawmakers To Wear Face Masks

House Speaker Larry Householder
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio

The leader of the Ohio House of Representatives says he cannot compel members to practice some of the safety measures recommended by Ohio’s Health Department to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) says he has limited authority over what members of the Ohio House do, because they are elected.

“I can’t keep them away from here," Householder says. "I can’t require them to have their temperature taken. I can’t require them to wear a mask. I can’t even require them not to sit in their chairs. If the members want to sit in their chairs and cast their votes, there’s nothing I can do about that."

Householder himself, along with most Republicans, is not wearing face masks in the chamber. Earlier in the month, House Republicans defeated a resolution to make masks mandatory while doing businesses in the Statehouse, with all Democrats voting in favor.

At least one House member, state Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown) refused to have her temperature taken upon entering the building where lawmakers work.

State Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) filed a complaint with the Franklin County Health Department over conditions in the Ohio House. Democrats accused Householder of failing to provide a safe workplace after he abandoned a plan for safe distancing during sessions.

Gov. Mike DeWine has required some employees to wear masks as part of some of the state's plans allowing businesses to reopen, but backed off a plan requiring customers to wear them. Individual businesses can set masks requirements inside their store, however. 

DeWine said he can't force lawmakers to wear masks, but that it shouldn't be a partisan issue.

“I'm not going to tell them what to do, whether to wear a mask or not in session. The only thing that I would say is the medical science clearly shows that we respect one another when we wear a mask, and that's the best thing to do," DeWine said.

State Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana), who also refuses to wear masks, introduced a bill that would ban the governor from issuing any face covering requirements without a two-thirds vote from the Ohio General Assembly.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.