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Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas Leaves Crowded, Mostly-Maskless Hearing

Ohio Senator Cecil Thomas
Al Behrman
Ohio Senator Cecil Thomas arrives at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, on the first day of early voting in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2014 when he was a candidate for the office.

A Democratic state senator says he left a committee hearing on Wednesday because so many members of the public weren't wearing masks.

Nearly two hundred people offered testimony in an Ohio Senate committee in support of a Republican-backed bill that would allow a panel of lawmakers to reject a health order from the governor, and would limit states of emergency to 30 days.

Most in the room were maskless, leading state Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) to leave the hearing and watch it in his office on the Ohio Channel. Thomas tweeted a picture of the largely unmasked crowd in the state Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, and said he has a daughter with a severely compromised immune system and won't put her health at risk.

State Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) stayed for the full hearing but echoed his colleague's worries about so many people in the room without masks.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and committee chairperson state Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) both said capacity limits will be set in committee rooms and additional chairs will be removed for safe social distancing during public hearings.

"We're going to have a maximum capacity in any of these rooms and no place else for anybody to sit and no standing. So I think that will minimize but certainly not completely eliminate the concerns," Huffman said.

While there is a statewide mask mandate in place, the Ohio House and Senate set their own rules. And so far, neither chamber has imposed a mask mandate. In fact, the House has twice rejected minority Democrats' efforts to put one into place.

During the hearing, Rishanne Golden blamed her 20-year-old daughter’s death in 2018 on the meningitis vaccine, though medical experts have said there’s no connection. Golden told senators she now has to rebuild her Marysville business that she said was devastated by Gov. Mike DeWine’s pandemic policies, which she called “insane,”

“And at 57-years-old I would be forced to rise and build a new career and a new life that was not with a family of four, and that I would be doing so because in the land of the free, a dictator rules," Golden said.

Others testifying include business owners, students and people opposed to vaccines and masks. The testimony included some wild and unsubstantiated claims about COVID treatments, vaccines, mask effectiveness and government power.

The bill includes some elements from another bill that DeWine vetoed last year. The legislation in question during the hearing was sponsored by Roegner and state Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), who also sponsored SB 311, a bill on business closures that was one of two DeWine rejected. More bills to limit DeWine's authority with health orders and shutdowns were proposed but didn’t pass both chambers.

Several state lawmakers have tested positive for COVID, including state Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake), who were hospitalized.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.