A bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) seeks to prevent the governor or health director from making arbitrary decisions as to what businesses stay open and which ones are ordered to close.
House Bill 621, also known as the Business Fairness Act, was originally introduced by Wilkin and fellow Republican state Rep. John Cross of Ohio’s 83rd District on May 7, and was referred to committee five days later.
Information from the Ohio Legislature indicated that the Wilkin-Cross measure also had 33 co-sponsors, all Republican.
Thursday, HB 621 was reported and amended to the State and Local Government Committee, receiving favorable passage by a 10-3 vote that fell along party lines, with only one Democrat reaching across the aisle to give her support, that being C. Allison Russo of Central Ohio’s 24th District.
With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise in the Buckeye State, last week’s statewide address by Gov. Mike DeWine started out upbeat and optimistic before taking on an ominous tone, telling viewers he would take drastic measures, if necessary, to halt the spread of COVID-19.
During a late afternoon Veterans Day address, DeWine said if the coronavirus cases don’t subside, he may be forced to close Ohio’s restaurants, bars and fitness centers.
DeWine said Tuesday in a press release that the Ohio Department of Health will be issuing a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. statewide curfew beginning on Thursday, Nov. 19. The curfew will be in effect for 21 days.
The curfew will not apply to those going to or from work, those who have an emergency, or those who need medical care. The curfew is not intended to stop anyone from getting groceries or going to a pharmacy. Picking up carry-out or a drive-thru meal and ordering for delivery will be permitted, but serving food and drink in person must cease at 10 p.m.
Additional details on the 21-day curfew order will be forthcoming.
“We’re not shutting down, we’re slowing down,” DeWine said in the news release. “The curfew is aimed at helping to reduce the number of person-to-person contacts because the only way virus lives is when it goes from one person to another. We have to flatten this curve again and get this under control.”
The crux of HB 621, according to the Ohio Legislature website, would be to prevent any business from being shut down by an order from the Ohio Department of Health as long as that business can comply with any required safety precautions that the order would contain.
The bill echoed a concern made by Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin on the same day that HB 261 was introduced, when during a meeting of village council, Todd Wilkin stated that while he wasn’t down-playing the seriousness of COVID-19, he saw a problem when big-box stores were able to stay open and small businesses could not.
He cited as an example being able to go to Walmart to buy his wife a necklace for Mother’s Day, but not being able to shop a small, local jeweler to make the same purchase.
“I have been in Walmart and I can tell you I trust that a smaller, locally-owned business would be able to protect me better than the bigger box store with hundreds of people in them,” Todd Wilkin said. “Why are we letting our smaller businesses and restaurants suffer while their bigger competitors thrive?
Cross and Shane Wilkin have both said in their Twitter feeds that they believe the impact economically of COVID-19-related shutdowns far outweighs the seriousness of the pandemic, with Shane Wilkin saying Thursday on Twitter that he wasn’t seeing the purported overwhelming of health care facilities in his district.
“I’m actually reaching out to the hospitals in my district to say ‘where are you on capacity,’” he said. “I’ve not heard from any of them down in my district that are saying ‘hey, listen, this is getting close, this is a severe issue that we’re going to start facing.’ I haven’t heard that.”
His co-sponsor on the measure was more pointed in his comments that he directed toward DeWine via Twitter.
“We’re frustrated, because we’re doing all that we can physically do. I would challenge the whole science to this, if everyone’s wearing masks, there’s Plexiglas everywhere, we’re doing everything remotely possible, so why are the percentages still going up?” Cross said. “I would tell the governor politely, let’s quit threatening the businesses. Tone and tenor matters. Quit threatening the businesses and holding a gun to their heads and saying ‘If you don’t do this, we’re going to shut you down.’”
Shane Wilkin said his original intent in helping to craft HB 621 was to prevent the executive branch “from bankrupting the state of Ohio.”
If the measure gains Ohio House passage, it would still need to meet with approval in the Ohio Senate and then get DeWine’s signature.
In the event of House and Senate passage, and a DeWine veto, the bill would need to meet a super majority of 60 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate to override it.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.