COLUMBUS -- Does the Ohio governor, through the state Department of Health, have the right to unilaterally create and impose restrictions on residents and businesses during a health crisis?
Does the Ohio General Assembly have a right to review those restrictions and modify them or reject them outright?
That's the crux of the politicized health battle ongoing in Columbus over Senate Bill 311, approved by the Ohio House on Thursday and now resting on Gov. Mike DeWine's desk for signature or veto.
DeWine, who has led the state's fight against COVID-19 since the pandemic reached Ohio in March, labeled SB 311 a "disaster" and said the legislation would tie his hands and the hands of future governors to combat such outbreaks.
He will certainly veto the bill, which ironically is supported by of all of his fellow Republicans in the legislature and opposed by all of the Democrats.
"This bill would make Ohio slow to respond to a crisis, it would take tools away from this governor or future governors, it would put the lives of Ohioans in jeopardy," said DeWine.
State Rep. Mark Romanchuk, a Republican from Ontario who will become a state senator in January, disagrees with DeWine.
He said the bill, which amends a century-old law, creates a proper check-and-balance between the administration and the legislature that the 1909 law didn't allow.
"It doesn't prohibit the governor from issuing an emergency health order. (The governor) can still issue any orders he wants. SB 311 allows us to have to debate on those orders," Romanchuk said. "One of the foundational things needed to make a Constitutional republic work is checks and balances. This bill inserts the legislature into the decision-making process, plain and simple.
"When the legislature is not in that process, it has lost its voice ... and the people have lost their voice."
The veteran lawmaker and businessman said SB 311 doesn't guarantee legislative action when a governor issues emergency health orders.
It also doesn't automatically rescind any current orders now in place, including the statewide mask mandate and 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, though it would prohibit quarantine against those who do not have the virus or who have not been exposed to it.
"In order for the legislature to push back, there would have to be a resolution from both chambers and that is never guaranteed," Romanchuk said. "(Such a resolution) would allow for the process we follow on every policy -- open and transparent debate. That's what we do every day in the legislature."
Romanchuk said the DeWine administration has also failed to communicate with lawmakers during the pandemic.
"Not only have we not had a say in any of these actions, we have not been communicated with," Romanchuk said. "When my constituents call and ask questions, I have not been able to answer. I have to watch the (bi-weekly) press conferences just like everyone else."
When he co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, Sen. president Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican whose district includes Richland and Ashland counties, said it will establish common-sense limitations.
“Senate Bill 311 restores the proper balance between the legislature and the executive branch,” said Obhof, who leaves office at the end of 2020 due to term limits. “We have seen too many decisions being made by an administrative agency rather than by the legislature.
“This bill clarifies what the intent of the legislature has long been: quarantine and isolation can only be enforced upon people who have been diagnosed with a contagious illness or who have been directly in contact with someone who has the disease."
Despite the fact Republicans control the House and Senate, an override of a veto is not guaranteed, Romanchuk said. It was approved 20-13 in the Senate and 58-32 in the House. Nine House members, including three Republicans, didn't vote on Thursday.
An override majority requires 20 votes in the Senate and 60 in the House. Romanchuk said he has seen legislation in the past when lawmakers voted in favor of a bill and then against an override, "for a variety of reasons."
Any veto vote would have to be done by Dec. 31 at midnight before the lameduck session of the legislature ends. Since the bill began began in the Senate, that chamber would have to vote first.