Ohio lawmakers override governor’s veto, curtail emergency health powers

The draconian restrictions and outright lockdowns imposed by governors in numerous states since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to untold economic and personal devastation, but now another state has succeeded in limiting the power of its executive branch to continue them indefinitely.

In a vote of 62-35, the Ohio House of Representatives voted to override Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a bill limiting his power to issue emergency public health orders, a move that followed a 23-10 vote in the state Senate to do the same, as The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The legislation at issue permits lawmakers to modify or reject health orders from the state immediately upon their issuance by adopting a concurrent resolution, and it also affords them the ability to extend or bring an end to any previously declared state of emergency. The health department will also be prohibited from reissuing any such order for a period of 60 days after it has been struck down legislatively.

According to the Associated Press, earlier in the week, DeWine fulfilled a prior promise to veto the measure, which he argued “jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan,” and “strikes at the heart of local health departments’ ability to move quickly to protect the public from the most serious emergencies Ohio could face.”

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D) sided with the governor in the ongoing battle, labeling the bill a spiteful response to “hurt feelings” over DeWine’s decisive action in managing the state’s pandemic response. Sykes, who holds a master’s degree in public health, told her colleagues on the other side of the aisle:

This is not your lane. You need to get out of it, because people are going to be harmed by this decision.

Opponents within DeWine’s own party, however, said the bill provides the type of checks and balances that have been sorely lacking throughout the pandemic, with Sen. Rob McColley opining:

One branch of government is not meant to have unchecked and unfettered authority over our entire society for an undefined period of time.

Another Midwestern governor who has been locked in combat with state legislators over what many perceive to be egregious overreaches in response to COVID-19 is Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer (D), who this week vetoed an attempt by lawmakers to strip emergency powers from her state health department director, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

Republicans in Michigan have long argued that Whitmer and the health department officials in her administration have failed to consult with lawmakers when issuing their far-reaching pandemic-related orders and have withheld information on the critical metrics used to justify them.

Though the veto override in Ohio is an encouraging sign that the dictatorial actions that have produced such incalculable losses can eventually be curtailed through the efforts of principled lawmakers, the sad truth is that the lasting damage to millions of Americans has already been done.