Thursday, March 25, 2021

Coronavirus Update 3-25-2021: Ohio legislature foolishly and dangerously limits the authority of the governor to respond to public health crises

"I can tell, as you're smirking at me not wearing a mask, you are not good at public health. This is not your lane, you need to get out of it."

That's Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes chastising her Republican colleagues for their support of Senate Bill 22, which Governor DeWine vetoed on Tuesday, and the state legislature overrode that veto yesterday.

What is S.B. 22? It limits the authority of the governor, Ohio Department of Health, and local health departments to respond to a public health crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tyler Buchanan, writing at Ohio Capital Journal, provides this helpful summary.

  • The legislature can rescind public health orders, state of emergency declarations, and any other executive branch order/rule issued in response to an emergency declaration.
  • These orders/declarations can be rescinded as early as the same day they are issued.
  • The executive branch cannot reissue a rescinded order for at least 60 days.
  • Limits state of emergency declaration to 30 days, requiring legislature approval to extend it.
  • Limits local boards of health from issuing widespread quarantine orders or any other orders that generally impact schools and businesses.
  • Local boards of health can only issue a quarantine/isolation order to individuals who have been diagnosed with a disease or have come in contact with someone who has.

This is an unmitigated disaster. Health departments should be regulating public health issues, not legislators. S.B. 22 is nothing more than political theater, with dangerous implications in the midst of the largest global public health crisis in more than 100 years. This law will not take effect for 90 days. While I'm not a constitutional scholar, one would have to imagine that if separation of powers means anything, the courts will strike down this law as an unlawful expansion of the legislature's power. (Update: Republican lawmakers expect a legal challenge.)

If S.B. 22 stands, and Ohio's legislature overturns Governor DeWine's mask mandate and other COVID-19 safety orders, please understand that the law is a floor and not a ceiling. You are always free to establish your own health and safety standards for your business, its employees, and its customers and other visitors. I'd urge you to do so until public health authorities, which actual understand these issues, declare it safe to do otherwise.