Gov. Mike DeWine is pictured during a statewide address on the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, May 12. Photo courtesy the Ohio Channel.
Since passing a bill in March to give themselves power to rescind public health orders, Republican lawmakers in Ohio have been counting the days until that power went into effect.
They may not need to use it.
In a Wednesday evening address outlining Ohio’s next steps in handling the pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine announced “it is time” to remove those health orders.
DeWine said all pandemic orders would be removed on June 2, except for those involving nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Republican legislators, who have battled with the DeWine administration since the early months of the pandemic, effectively gave the governor little choice. He had until late June to remove the health orders — or else they would remove them.
DeWine had already committed to removing the orders once Ohio reached a low threshold of new cases: an average of 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the course of a two-week time frame. While the state has made progress toward that goal in recent weeks, it’s remained unclear when exactly the target figure would be hit.
Amid pressure from the legislature, DeWine said the positive impact of the COVID-19 vaccines meant Ohio could remove the health orders even without having reached the target.
“There comes a time when individual responsibility simply must take over,” he said.
Senate Bill 22 goes into effect on June 23. It will give lawmakers the ability to rescind health orders and the state of emergency declaration through passing a concurrent resolution.
Hours before DeWine was set to speak, state Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, announced plans to introduce a resolution to remove all of Ohio’s existing COVID-19 health mandates.
“The issue of removing the health orders is a very important one for our caucus,” House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, told reporters on Wednesday before the governor’s speech.
“There’s a strong sentiment that the health orders need to be dissolved,” he added.
Cupp declined to answer questions as to whether he’s spoken with the governor recently about the health order situation.
Throughout the pandemic, Republicans have accused the executive branch of overstepping its legal bounds in enforcing various COVID-19 health restrictions. Members have bristled at the governor for not adequately considering the inputs of lawmakers. DeWine has defended his administration’s aggressive stance as being necessary to combat a pandemic that, to date, has led to more than 19,400 deaths across the state.
The Republican supermajorities within the Ohio General Assembly have repeatedly attempted to curb the authority of the state health department.
Only a few of those bills have made it to the governor’s desk, each time leading to a DeWine veto.
While the GOP caucuses could not muster a veto override in 2020, things looked more favorable for this term when the party gained several seats in last November’s elections.
The legislature moved quickly to pass SB 22. A day after the governor vetoed it, members met again on March 24 to override that veto. The bill was passed without an emergency clause, meaning it would take 90 days for it to go into effect. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, telegraphed plans that day to use the powers of SB 22 as early as possible.
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.