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Gov. Mike DeWine's Veto Of Health Order Bill Sets Up Override Fight

State Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster)
Ohio House
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State Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) is chair of the House committee that heard SB22, a bill to limit public health orders.

Gov. Mike DeWine has officially vetoed a bill that would give Ohio lawmakers the power to overturn his public health orders and states of emergency. DeWine’s fellow Republicans in the legislature standing firm, so the measure is almost certainly headed to a veto override and a court fight.

SB22 would make states of emergency issued by the governor expire after 90 days, and allow the Ohio General Assembly to revoke that state of emergency after 30 days. The legislature could also revoke any health orders created under that state of emergency after 11 days.

"SB 22 handcuffs Ohio’s ability to confront crises," DeWine writes in his veto statement. "The emergence of a yet unknown, epidemic illnesses bursting on the scene – just as COVID-19 did – remains a very real threat, as does the risk of state and non-state-sponsored terrorism."

State Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne Co.) chairs the House committee that heard the bill. He received a letter from DeWine on Monday, saying the governor respects legislative oversight but the bill is unconstitutional.

"At precisely the times that government must act with focus and resolve making immediate, decisive, gut-wrenching, and often unpopular decisions, SB22 flings the Courthouse doors wide open for immediate judicial intervention," DeWine wrote.

Wiggam responded with his own letter, writing, “This type of autocratic rule must be checked by the Legislature and should be tested in the courts."

Wiggam has said SB22 allows legislators to represent their constituents in the decision-making process.

“The General Assembly is the only policymaking authority identified by the Ohio Constitution," Wiggam says. "So you could virtually argue that the governor’s ongoing, year-long orders and rules are actually unconstitutional.”

Speaking at his coronavirus press briefing Monday, DeWine specifically criticized the bill's prohibition on health departments ordering people to quarantine if they haven't been "medically diagnosed." And he says the bill would expose Ohio, universities and local health departments to numerous lawsuits, calling it a "trial lawyer's dream."

The governor proposed a compromise, which he claimed would grant lawmakers some oversight, but Wiggam says it’s largely a non-starter. Wiggam agrees with DeWine about concerns for future governors and emergencies, but he says the bill creates checks and balances.

“If we put no limits on the governor, which there are none now, then we're violating our own oath of following the Constitution, is what I would argue," Wiggam says. "The Constitution does does not grant emergency powers such as the one claimed by the governor. Those powers are all statutory given to the governor through the legislation.”

Leaders in the Ohio House and Senate say they have enough votes to overturn DeWine's veto. Wiggam says he expects that override vote as early as this week, and it's likely the law will end up in court soon after.

This is DeWine's fourth non-budget veto. Last year, he vetoed a bill considered the predecessor to this one, banning orders that shut down businesses. The legislature did not vote to override that veto.

DeWine also nixed bills that would have reduced penalties for violating health orders and lifted COVID restrictions on county fairs. He said earlier this month that county fairs will happen this year, but with some restrictions such as limited crowds in grandstands.