Republicans in Ohio’s House of Representatives moved Wednesday to limit the authority of state Health Department Director Amy Acton, who has been criticized by those chafing under the COVID mitigation orders in recent weeks.
One of the bills they passed would limit health department orders to 14 days before requiring approval from at least six lawmakers on a 10-member panel. Another would reduce the penalties associated with violating the orders.
Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who has been vocal in his defense of Acton, signaled a veto should the Republican-controlled Senate also pass the legislation.
He wrote on Twitter that his administration is focused on the double-pronged task of tamping down the novel coronavirus and keeping the economy afloat.
“Ohioans need their legislators focused on these important issues,” he said. “Creating more uncertainty regarding public health and employee safety is the last thing we need as we work to restore consumer confidence in Ohio’s economy.”
Democrats in the House blasted the first bill, which Republicans amended to curtail the health department’s orders.
“The Ohio Department of Health has had quarantine and isolation powers since it was established in 1886 and its director has never before needed JCARR oversight – until that director in charge of a pandemic was a woman,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D) in a statement, referring to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. “This is what happens when a single party of mostly men are permitted to dominate both chambers of the state’s legislature – their fragile egos are hurt that a woman has more power and is more relevant than they are.”
Rep. Brigid Kelly (D), the ranking member on the House State and Local Government Committee, called the measure limiting the orders a “last minute” addition to legislation that had been presented to the committee just hours before Republicans voted it to the floor. She added that it “flies in the face of reason.”
Both bills will now go to the Senate.
Acton, who signs the state’s stay-at-home orders, has become a particular target for proponents of a faster reopening.
On Saturday, a small group of protesters gathered in front of her house in the Columbus suburbs, accusing her of “Over-Re-Acton” to the pandemic.
Rep. Nino Vitale (R) called her a “globalist,” a common antisemitic codeword used by some on the right. Acton is Jewish.
“Your basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not come from an unelected Globalist Health Director, who signed the order in the dark of night,” he wrote on Facebook. “Your basic human rights are inalienable and cannot be bought, sold, traded or taken from you.”
A few weeks before that, Sen. Andrew Brenner (R) amplified his wife’s Facebook post that compared an idea Acton entertained, about giving out certificates to those who recovered from coronavirus, to Nazi Germany. He has since apologized.
DeWine has encouraged those opposed to the stay-at-home orders to target him rather than Acton, saying that he’s the one who ran for elected office and who makes the policy decisions.