STATEMENT ON PASSAGE OF AMENDED SENATE BILL 1 IN OHIO HOUSE (Updated 5/16/2020)
I have received many letters, emails and phone calls from constituents of varying occupations and levels of expertise. Some include professionals in medical fields and public health. Some have similar backgrounds and education to Dr. Acton. They have shared their disagreements with some of the policies and directives enacted and I have listened and given them due consideration. Elected to represent 122,000 people in the 69th district, I have listened to many people with many perspectives and expertise in many fields on the current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
I agree with many of you that the early decisions of the Governor and Dr. Acton were necessary to save lives and ensure that our medical and public health systems were not overwhelmed. While those actions were necessary, based on my level of information and knowledge, the emergency actions should not be long term and without eventual and certain oversight by the General Assembly or the Courts.
The legislation does not prevent Dr Acton and Gov DeWine from using good science and prudent judgement from issuing orders. The General Assembly delegated the powers of quarantine and isolation to local Health Departments and State Director decades ago. It just requires the Director and Gov to obtain legislative approvals for statewide mandates and rule for actions that exceed 14 days. Never in our history of dealing with many different types of pandemics have statewide closures been used so pervasively and without oversight by the General Assembly. This provides for checks and balances by people that use the same science and public health information to come to the same conclusion.
Historically, the oversight of the State Director of Health has changed, while the authority of the department over quarantines and isolation have not. Under R.C. 3701.13, the Department of Health has the ultimate authority in matters of quarantine and isolation and the power to issue special or standing orders and rules to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious diseases. This authority and power was originally vested in the State Board of Health, the predecessor to the Department. While R.C. 3701.13 has undergone several revisions over time, that authority and power has remained largely unchanged since 1893.
Because of a change in law in 2012, the Director is solely appointed by and overseen by the Governor. Prior to that, the Ohio Public Health Council, created in 1917 had oversight and input to the State Health Director. From 1963 to 2012, the Ohio Public Health Council not only provided guidance and authorized changes to rules issued by the State Health Department, they also provided a list of qualified candidates to the Governor for appointment to the Director position. Originally and for many decades, the Public Health Council actually appointed the Director, not the Governor. My point is, eventual and certain oversight of the decisions of one person has historically been how the State of Ohio deals with matters of infectious disease and public health.
Decisions made by one person could be called tyranny. The Joint Committee on Agency Review has a history and legal precedent for providing oversight over many administrative rules. The Governor and Health Director can still take the emergency and temporary actions needed to protect health, safety, and welfare of our citizens.
I will point out that the local health departments can also take the same actions independently for their respective jurisdictions. Their actions as well as the appointment of the local director are overseen by a local board of health, which by law includes one physician. Many states operate on the same type of model regarding public health, and several have encouraged their local health departments to continue stricter restrictions even as the statewide mandates are loosened. Local departments involve the oversight of their health directors by local officials, including other health professionals. In the case of SB 1, I took the position that statewide mandates demand statewide oversight by all three branches of our state government.
Passage of the Amended Substitute Senate Bill 1 by the Ohio House, while not perfect, was an essential first attempt and opportunity for members of the Ohio Senate to promptly and jointly re-assert our role in the checks and balances of state governance, which the Ohio Constitution envisions. Procedurally, they can take the bill under consideration, collectively not concur with the amendments and form a joint conference committee to work the differences of opinion on the bill. Upon resolving those differences, the conference report would have to be accepted by both houses before submission to the Governor for his approval or veto. If the differences cannot be resolved, then the bill just dies for lack of agreement.
In summary, under Amended SUB SB 1, Dr Acton and Governor DeWine can still take whatever statewide actions they deem necessary and prudent to protect the public health, safety and welfare. This bill just provides that there will be a reasonable, certain and eventual oversight of those actions by the General Assembly, as the other branch of the government and elected representatives of the people.
Hopefully this answers many of the questions and alleviate some of the concerns expressed.
Paid for by Friends for Hambley Committee,2820 Grafton Road, Brunswick, Ohio 44212.