COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof says his chamber advanced 10 measures — including seven that deal directly with the coronavirus pandemic — that the House should have acted on before a group of representatives announced Monday they want to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine.
Some of the coronavirus measures limit the authority of the governor and Ohio Department of Health, said Obhof, a Medina Republican who said that his chamber will conduct a trial if the House can muster the votes for impeachment, which he’s skeptical will actually happen: “I think It’s grandstanding by a couple of members who aren’t productive legislatively,” he said.
“You’ve got people talking today about impeaching the governor and you’ve got the House trying to create the narrative that they’ve been trying to scale back on the governor’s power or the Department of Health’s power,” Obhof said Monday. “But since May 27, we’ve had a bill sitting over there that would have scaled back on the Department of Health’s power in two important ways — on elections and on regulating churches — and they haven’t had a vote on it.”
DeWine discouraged but did not prohibit churches from having in-person services. He delayed the March 17 election less than 24 hours before it was to begin, which created a lot of confusion, court orders and ultimately a bill in the legislature extending the primary until April 28.
DeWine was the first governor in the U.S. to announce the closure of public and private schools. He closed restaurants and bars, except for carryout and delivery, and ultimately issued a stay-at-home order. Most of the economy is reopened, though restrictions remain.
The ultraconservative critics in the House who want to impeach him think he went too far.
Walking a bill across the building
Some inside baseball: After an Ohio legislative chamber acts on a bill, a staffer physically delivers a “message” — which contains bill amendments and associated documents — to the clerk in the other chamber, and the messages and bills are supposed to end up on the chamber’s floor for a vote.
Obhof said he’s sent 10 bill messages over to the House clerk that were never sent to the House floor, technically meaning the messages were never accepted — which Obhof said is unheard of.
At the time, the House speaker was Rep. Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, who has since been removed from the leadership position (though not his House seat) and charged in federal court with racketeering in connection with the passage of House Bill 6.
Obhof said he was aware all summer that some of the bill messages had not been accepted. But late last week, he did some research and was surprised to learn it was 10.
“There’s no question the clerk was instructed to not accept the messages,” he said.
Obhof said that when he realized Householder was stalling some of the bills, he never addressed him about it.
“He and I didn’t talk a lot,” Obhof said.
He declined to explain why communication was scarce, though bad feelings between the two chambers have been well-known on Ohio Capitol Square. But Obhof said the messages should have been accepted and acted upon, regardless of their relationship. He added that typically, lawmakers delay acting on bills through a tactic of “informally passing” a bill, which allows it to remain on the calendar without addressing the legislation.
Obhof said that he believes the bills will be dealt with in the more traditional way under new House Speaker Bob Cupp.
“I believe that with the new speaker, things will return to normalcy,” he said.
Taylor Jach, a spokeswoman for Cupp, confirmed that there was some catching up to do.
“The prior House Speaker left a lot of important work unfinished and we are in the process of talking to members of the caucus and determining which of these policy items should advance,” she said.
The following are the bills having to do with the pandemic that were not accepted:
-House Bill 160: A bill allowing the shipping of alcoholic ice cream. The Senate sent the bill back to the House with amendments that bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries could expand the area where they sell drinks to parking lots and sidewalks. The summer is almost finished, Obhof said, and the House should have voted to help the struggling establishments before the weather gets cold and customers don’t want to be outside. The House was working on similar coronavirus provisions but the ones in HB 160 were further along, he said.
-HB 203: The bill originally allowed mobile dental facilities. The Senate expanded it to allow pharmacists to enter agreements with physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses to perform drug therapy management, which Obhof said would free the other practitioners up to treat coronavirus patients.
-HB 242: The bill originally banned local governments from banning plastic bags used at grocery stores, in restaurant takeout and other purposes. The Senate amended the bill, prohibiting the local bans for a year. Obhof said that with early science on how the virus survives on surfaces, cloth bags may be unhygienic.
-HB 272: Originally a bill having to do with the courts, the Senate added provisions to prohibit public officials from ordering the closure of all places of worship in a geographical area, and prohibit a public official from changing the time, place or manner of an election, except under certain circumstances.
-HB 606: Would generally provide businesses immunity from lawsuits when someone becomes sick or dies from exposure to COVID-19 during the public health emergency.
-Senate Bill 310: The Senate sent this bill to the House, which accepted it. The bill would distribute $350 million in federal CARES act to local governments. The House added amendments that the Senate didn’t agree with, and the Senate rejected them. But the House never accepted the Senate’s message, which would begin a process of negotiating differences between the House’s and Senate’s versions of the bill.
-SB 31: Originally a bill exempting emergency medical service workers’ personal records such as addresses from being made public, the House added an amendment requiring a signed consent before someone undergoes contact tracing, an important way to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The Senate rejected the change, but the House hasn’t accepted its message, which the delaying the negotiation on the bill.
House Bills 341, 264 and 123 were also held but are not related to the pandemic.
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