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Public Weighs In on Bill to Limit DeWine's Emergency Power

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Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 9, 2020. This week, he's getting an earful about it, pro and con, in the General Assembly. (Paul Becker/Flickr)
Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 9, 2020. This week, he's getting an earful about it, pro and con, in the General Assembly. (Paul Becker/Flickr)
 By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman - Producer, Contact
March 10, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio - As Ohio marked the one-year anniversary of its COVID state of emergency, a hearing was held Tuesday on legislation to limit the governor's emergency powers.

Under Senate Bill 22, the General Assembly could repeal public-health orders from the governor or the Ohio Department of Health.

During a second House committee hearing, Father Gabriel Lavery, pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Sulphur Springs, said some of his parishioners were disheartened by Gov. Mike DeWine's stay-at-home order, and thinks Ohioans should have a voice in these types of decisions.

"I'm not talking about putting a price on life," he said. "What we are weighing is the risk to life versus how much these mandates affect our lives."

SB 22 requires the governor to notify the General Assembly at least 15 days before issuing a public-health order. However, Holly Welch, [reparedness administrator for the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Emergency Management Agency, said that could delay emergency assistance.

"We want to be able to protect the citizens of Ohio during emergencies, and to do so, we must be able to act quickly and for extended periods of time," she said. "Any other option threatens the ability to physically respond or bring much-needed funding to residents of the state of Ohio."

DeWine said he would veto the bill if it passes, but also will work with lawmakers to adapt the bill.

Lisa Keller, a council member in the city of Delaware, questioned the governor's metrics for reopening fully, and called for more oversight.

"Ohio will be open when Gov. DeWine decides it's time, and not a second sooner," she said. "No matter what other states are doing, no matter what the Legislature thinks should happen - unless you act decisively to end one-person rule in Ohio."

In opposing testimony, Sarah Barry accused lawmakers of rejecting medical science. She also expressed frustration that some people already are ignoring public-health orders and the mask mandate.

"There's been hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people in Ohio who agree that they don't work and haven't been wearing them this entire time," she said. "They have been having mass gatherings of hundreds of people this entire time, because they don't care."

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This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Founation.

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