Longshot impeachment effort highlights rift with governor
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A conservative lawmaker’s proposal to impeach fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine over his handling of the pandemic may have been the most brazen legislative attack on the first-term governor to date. Even the lawmaker, Rep. John Becker of Cincinnati, acknowledged he was probably committing “political suicide.”
Lost in the fury over Becker’s move—backed by just three other House Republicans—was the fact that many more GOP lawmakers strongly disagree with DeWine’s response to the coronavirus and have been trying to thwart him legislatively for months. They previously directed much of their anger at Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, who resigned suddenly in June after a torrent of conservative criticism.
Senate President Larry Obhof and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both fellow Republicans, have also expressed dissatisfaction with some of DeWine’s actions, though both took a cool approach to talk of impeachment.
House and Senate lawmakers have introduced well over a dozen bills since March attempting to limit DeWine’s ability to respond to the virus through the issuance of public health orders and other emergency measures.
One of those, a Senate bill prohibiting criminal penalties for violations of state or local health orders related to the pandemic, even reached DeWine’s desk in July, when he promptly vetoed it. “In the midst of this pandemic, now is not the time to change tactics and impede local health officials’ ability to protect all Ohioans,” DeWine said in his July 17 veto message to lawmakers.
DeWine on Tuesday brushed off talk of impeachment, telling lawmakers backing the effort to “have at it” if that’s their top priority. Asked about overall legislative support, he said he’s focused on getting Ohio through the crisis and believes his goals — to preserve life and restore the economy — represent solidly conservative values.
Defeating the virus and keeping it from coming back is “all about preserving, protecting liberty, freedom, basically our way of life,” DeWine said.
A few of those other bills to restrict the governor’s powers, and what they do:
Senate Bill 1: Originally a pre-pandemic bill dealing with regulatory changes to state agencies. After the Senate passed it in early May, House Republicans updated it to limit the health director’s public health orders to 14 days, after which the Legislature would have to review them for renewal. Senate Republicans rejected the change in May, concerned it might to too far, and it’s been sitting in a conference committee since June.
Senate Bill 31: Originally a pre-pandemic bill exempting personal information of emergency dispatchers from the public records law, House Republicans changed it on May 27 to make the disease tracing process known as contract tracing voluntary, and to require individuals’ written consent to participate. Public health officials say such restrictions make it harder to track the disease’s progression. It’s awaiting assignment to a conference committee.
Senate Bill 311: Introduced May 15 by Republican Sens. Rob McColley and Kristina Roegner. Similar to the House change to Senate Bill 1, the legislation would have rescinded the state’s stay-at-home order issued April 30 and required legislative approval of other health orders after 14 days. It remains in committee.
Senate Bill 348, introduced Aug. 4 by Roegner and Republican Sen. Tim Schaeffer. It would allow local health districts to opt out of orders issued by the state health director. It awaits a committee assignment.
House Bill 272. Originally a pre-pandemic courts-related bill, Senate Republicans on May 27 added measures to prohibit public officials from ordering the closure of all places of worship—something DeWine didn’t do—and to prohibit a public official from changing the time, place or manner of an election. The latter was a reaction to DeWine’s 11th-hour decision to shut down the March 17 primary and was meant to block a similar shutdown of the November election. It’s awaiting assignment to a conference committee.
House Bills 617 and 618, introduced May 6 by GOP Rep. Kris Jordan and Becker respectively, generally limiting the ability of the Health Department to issue public health orders. Both are sitting in committee.
House Bill 649, introduced May 19 by GOP Reps. Reggie Stoltfus and Ron Hood. Among its provisions, it would remove “the concept of unlimited authority” for the state health director. It’s sitting in committee.
House Bill 680. Introduced by GOP Rep. Cindy Abrams on May 26. Similar to HB 272, it would prohibit an election being conducted in any fashion other than spelled out in state law. It’s in the Senate after the House passed it on June 4.
House Bill 682. Introduced by Rep. Nino Vitale, an Urbana Republican, on May 27. Would restrict the power to issue mask-wearing mandates to the Legislature. Vitale is one of three Republicans supporting Becker’s impeachment proposal. The bill is in committee.
House Bill 748. Introduced Aug. 17 by GOP Reps. Susan Manchester and Don Jones. Would restrict the Health Department from issuing public health orders that supersede decisions made by school districts or local governments. It’s awaiting a committee assignment.