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Bill to limit DeWine’s health orders passes in Ohio Senate

February 17, 2021 GMT
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FILE-This Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 file photo shows currently 73 crosses, representing deaths to COVID-19 in Nevada County, are part of the COVID Memorial, in Grass Valley, Calif. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to provide more details Thursday, Feb. 11, about revelations that the state underreported as many as 4,000 COVID-19 deaths, or more than a third of reported deaths to date. The Ohio Department of Health says those deaths will now be added to the state’s tally of deaths from the coronavirus during the coming week. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)
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FILE-This Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 file photo shows currently 73 crosses, representing deaths to COVID-19 in Nevada County, are part of the COVID Memorial, in Grass Valley, Calif. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to provide more details Thursday, Feb. 11, about revelations that the state underreported as many as 4,000 COVID-19 deaths, or more than a third of reported deaths to date. The Ohio Department of Health says those deaths will now be added to the state’s tally of deaths from the coronavirus during the coming week. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A small committee of legislators could overrule the Ohio governor’s health orders under a bill the state Senate approved Wednesday that marks the latest effort by GOP lawmakers to restrict fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Senate bill introduced last month by lawmakers would establish “checks and balances” on DeWine’s ability to issue and keep in place executive action during an emergency, including the current coronavirus pandemic.

“As I stated before, this bill is not meant to be, in any way, an indictment of the policies that have been put in place by the administration over the course of the last 11 months,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Rob McColley said on the Senate floor. “But rather is a response.”

The bill would create a committee that would have the power to rescind executive actions taken by any governor or state health department through a concurrent resolution, which requires a simple majority from the House and Senate. The latest draft of the bill was altered Wednesday during a Senate committee on oversight to reduce the number of lawmakers making the final say on orders in the committee from 10 to 6.

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Proponents of the bill believe DeWine and the state health department have issued orders during the last 11 months of the pandemic that have remained enacted for longer than necessary and, as a result, have unduly damaged small businesses and the state’s economy.

Opponents of the bill called it unconstitutional and warned it would decentralize the state’s response during an emergency and cost lives in the process.

“This bill is extremely dangerous. We are in a 100-year pandemic,” Democratic Sen. Cecil Thomas said Wednesday. “People are still dying as a result of this particular pandemic. This is not just a state of emergency for our storm or a flood or whatever the case may be. This is a state of emergency, because the virus is killing Ohioans.”

The senator’s comments mirrored those made by DeWine during a briefing Tuesday, where he once again indicated his disdain for efforts made by fellow GOP lawmakers to pass such legislation.

“We’re not out of this yet,” he said. “We cannot declare victory.”

DeWine, who vetoed a similar Senate bill in December, called the legislative action unconstitutional and “a grave mistake.”

He added, “I made it very clear to my friends in the Legislature that if this bill would be passed, I would have no choice as governor of the state but to veto.”

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.