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Doctors, Medical Experts Say Bill Blocks Ability To Respond To Local Emergencies

A sign describing COVID-19 symptoms is displayed in the lobby of a building on the campus of Grant Medical Center in downtown Columbus.
Karen Kasler
A sign describing COVID-19 symptoms is displayed in the lobby of a building on the campus of Grant Medical Center in downtown Columbus.

Medical professionals and public health experts are rebuking a bill that limits the authority of health orders saying it hampers their ability to respond to a pandemic.

Senate Bill 22 goes into effect in 90 days now that the legislature approved an override of the governor's veto.

Local health commissioners, including Franklin County's Joe Mazzola says SB22 restricts a health board from issuing an order, such as quarantine or isolation, unless they have a diagnosis or proof that a person has come into close contact with a communicable disease.

"When you take away a board of health's ability to issue orders, you fundamentally put the community more at risk from the public health threats," says Mazzola.

He says this language hinders their ability to handle any health emergency at the local level, which goes beyond the current, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), a practicing physician, says the measure prevents putting an entire state into quarantine and it still provides authority for local officials to protect the public.

The bill limits a state of emergency issued by an Ohio governor to 90 days. It also gives lawmakers the ability to rescind that emergency after 30 days and the ability to revoke any health order issued in that emergency.

The Buckeye Institute, a conservative group, said it supports the General Assembly's move to override DeWine's veto.

"The Buckeye Institute has consistently asserted that governors have broad -- but not limitless -- constitutional authority during a state of emergency. The use of extraordinary emergency powers must be subject to democratic checks and balances, and Buckeye applauds Ohio’s General Assembly for enforcing this check while still allowing Ohio to respond to genuine emergencies," Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute, said in a written statement.

DeWine says the bill is unconstitutional, an argument supporters deny. But DeWine says he hasn't ruled out a possible legal challenge.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.