State legislator in Ohio looks to cut the power of health director amid pandemic

Posted at 9:16 AM, May 05, 2020

CLEVELAND — When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wanted to change the date of the Ohio primary in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he couldn't do so under the state's constitution.

However, Dr. Amy Acton, the state's Health Director, could and did. By statute, she has the ability "to make special or standing orders or rules… for preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases."

State Representative John Becker (R-Union) said that statute goes too far.

"There's been an epic abuse of power," Becker said.

As a result, he's introducing a bill this week titled NOW (Need Ohio Working) that would make Acton's orders recommendations that the General Assembly would have to vote up or down.

"It's time to stop the madness, you know. I think a lot of people thought this would run through the end of April, then the beginning of May," Becker said. "The concern, of course, initially, was overrunning the healthcare system, and that may have been an overblown concern to begin with. Regardless, we're clearly on the downside of the curve, so that's no longer a factor that's on the table. So there's really no reason why we can't reopen the state of Ohio. So does that mean there's going to be potentially more infections and more deaths? Well sure, but you know, we have deaths from swimming pools and bathtubs and highway accidents too, so we can't protect everybody from everything."

Asked Monday if he would veto the measure if it were to pass and cross his desk, DeWine said he has not had a chance to look at the bill.

"Certainly, the legislature has every right to look at any law that exists today, but we have to deal with this problem, and this is a huge, huge problem," DeWine said. "So, I'll reserve any comment until I actually see the legislation."

Becker said his bill might have the blessing of assembly leadership and House Speaker Larry Householder.

"I said 'Hey, the media wants to know, is the speaker supporting this bill, because I didn't actually consult with him before writing it,'" Becker said. "He said that the leadership has been drafting a bill all week, something of that nature, so it sounds like there is a leadership bill on the topic. What it looks like and when it's going to get introduced, I do not know. So my bill is the only one that is out there. Apparently, it's the first one out there, but it's not going to be the only one."

This story was originally published by John Kosich on WEWS in Cleveland.