The relentless march of coronavirus through Ohio and across the United States would seem to demand more aggressive government action to protect citizens, not less.
But try telling that to Ohio lawmakers who propose a 14-day limit on orders issued by the state health director.
Thankfully, Gov. Mike DeWine has finally ordered a statewide mandate on wearing face masks in public places to try to slow the transmission of the virus and reduce the record pace of new COVID-19 cases in the state.
Widespread compliance with this common-sense preventive measure not only would keep more Ohioans healthy but also help build their confidence in being able to safely patronize local businesses that are desperate to recover from earlier stay-at-home orders.
The Dispatch also applauds the governor’s July 17 decision to veto legislation that would have reduced the penalty for violating state health orders. And so far, lawmakers who blustered about overriding the veto have not made good on that threat.
Senate Bill 55 would have lessened the penalty for violating a health order during a pandemic — such as DeWine’s new statewide mask mandate — from a second-degree misdemeanor with a maximum $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail to requiring just a warning for a first violation and no more than a $150 fine for subsequent violations.
In reality, the penalties have little bearing on individuals’ compliance with orders like the mask mandate and have been rarely enforced for businesses violating health orders intended to slow the spread of the virus.
What has more impact is the message such legislation sends to Ohioans who are already buffeted by conflicting communications at the federal level.
It doesn’t help that the nation’s chief executive frequently contradicts fervent pleas of the country’s top infectious disease experts, and his administration has campaigned to undercut solid scientific advice.
When state legislators also politicize what should be the purview of medical experts, we all lose.
Which brings us to Senate Bill 1, legislation that has been passed by both the Ohio House and Senate, but with different variations. The bill would make it even more difficult for the governor to issue meaningful health orders during the pandemic. It is pending in a House-Senate conference committee appointed to seek agreement on a single version.
SB 1 was initially proposed to create a process for state agencies to reduce state regulations by 30% by 2022. But the House amended the bill before passing it May 6 to prohibit orders issued by the state health director — then Dr. Amy Acton — from lasting longer than 14 days unless approved by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. JCARR is a legislative body of 10 members — five from each chamber — and controlled by Republicans who hold three of the five House and Senate seats.
Another outrageous House change would allow any Ohio citizen to seek a court order to force the health director to comply with the bill, and they would not have to prove harm to win a court ruling.
The healthiest option for Ohio would be for SB 1 to die in conference committee unless the provisions interfering with orders from the state health director are excised.
— Columbus Dispatch; Online: https://bit.ly/39BcFCR