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Gov. Mike DeWine Vetoes Bill Limiting Health Department's Powers

Gov. Mike DeWine inside the Governor's Residence in Columbus on Dec. 13, 2019.
John Minchillo
Associated Press

Gov. Mike DeWine says he vetoed a controversial bill that would limit the health department's ability to issue public health orders during emergencies.

DeWine had promised to veto SB311, which passed the Ohio legislature pretty much along party lines. And he is sending it back to the legislature with a message.

"Having essential strategies to protect the public against the spread of infectious, contagious disease is not only important in our efforts to eradicate COVID-19, but it is also necessary to help stop the spread of all infectious diseases and prevent future health crises in Ohio," DeWine wrote in his message to the Senate.

The bill would allow the legislature to adopt resolutions to rescind Health Department orders to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. It would also prevent the Health Department from implementing regional or statewide quarantines for people who haven’t been directly exposed or diagnosed with the disease – similar to the shutdown issued in March.

The veto message cites several potential consequences of the bill, which DeWine said would prevent Ohio from imposing quarantines on people arriving to the state from a disease hotspot, or responding quickly to a bioterrorism incident like the anthrax attacks following 9/11.

DeWine also added that the act would put additional pressures on the health care system, which is already strugglingto keep up with the dramatic influx of COVID-19 patients.

"We are trying to rely on the facts, we are trying to rely on what the best experts say, and that’s what we quote in the veto message," DeWine said at a press conference Thursday.

Republican legislative leaders say the bill is necessary to make sure there are checks and balances when it comes to shutting down or limiting businesses in Ohio. Now, the legislature will need a three-fifths majority to override DeWine's veto.

On Wednesday, Senate President Larry Obhof threatened a veto override as soon as this week. But he stepped back from that position Thursday, saying he hopes to work out a compromise with DeWine that might include, for example, removing criminal penalties as punishment for violating a public health order.

Obhof said all sides are focused on keeping people safe and healthy and having rules to enable that.

“But I think there’s a significant portion of the Legislature and the general population that believes that government shouldn’t have the ability to say you have to stay in your house and if you don’t, it’s a crime,” Obhof said.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp issued his own statement saying he was "disappointed" by the veto of a "balanced and reasonable plan." Cupp said he will discuss next steps with members of the House GOP caucus.

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.