The Ohio Senate passed two bills and discussed a third this week that would “check and balance” state executive orders. The two passed bills would limit essential workers’ liability for COVID-19 transmissions and grant $650 million of federal relief funds statewide, respectively.
The controversial bill to reign in the executive and open up the state remains under review. Senate Bill (SB) 311 aims to install a balance of powers between Congress and Ohio’s Department of Health (DOH) during this and any future pandemics. In an interview with The Ohio Star, Senator Andrew Brenner (R-OH-19) explained the historical rationale behind the bill.
“In the 1800s, the original purpose of granting executive power for health orders was to quarantine sick people. This bill tries to fine-tune what the director can do in a pandemic and limit it to people who are sick,” he said. “It allows us to either sign off on a joint resolution, or we can say, ‘No, I don’t think this will work.'”
Senators Rob McColley (R-OH-1) and Kristina Roegner (R-OH-27) are the main sponsors of the bill; Brenner is a co-sponsor. The bill amends sections of the current Revised Code to disallow “a general, mandatory statewide or regional quarantine or isolation order.” Instead, orders should apply to the infected or directly exposed.
The bill also grants the General Assembly power to rescind any special or standing orders related to pandemics. A version of the bill was first introduced in May.
“It’s a check and balance restoration on the executive branch,” said Brenner. “Right now the director can write these orders and we have no say. There could be economic or even scientific challenges to the orders that we’d like to address.”
SB 311 is projected to be up for a vote in several weeks. House Bill 606 on limiting pandemic liability for essential workers will go before Governor Mike DeWine. SB 357 adding statewide relief funding awaits a House vote.
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