COLUMBUS, Ohio—Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday signed into law legislation curtailing his own powers to modify Ohio’s election plans or close houses of worship.
DeWine’s signing of House Bill 272 follows criticism of him for postponing Ohio’s March 17 primary election due to coronavirus fears. In addition, while DeWine didn’t order houses of worship to close during the coronavirus, he said that holding in-person services would be a “huge mistake,” leading many congregations to halt such services.
The legislation, which takes effect in mid-December, states that “no public official shall cause an election to be conducted other than in the time, place, and manner prescribed by the Revised Code.” The only exception would be in cases of enemy attack.
HB 272 also bans any public official in Ohio from closing places of worship — either statewide or in a particular part of the state.
DeWine signed HB 272 along with two other bills at his home in Greene County, according to a release from his office.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said late Wednesday afternoon that the governor agreed to sign the legislation curbing his power to close houses of worship because he never even contemplated taking such a step.
As for changing Ohio’s elections, Tierney said that going forward, DeWine would not postpone the election again the way he did in March, as he now knows that state officials instead have to plan for potential spikes in coronavirus cases around voting times.
“At that stage, remember, the pandemic was emerging in March, and the situation on the ground changed very rapidly and unexpectedly,” Tierney said. “That was certainly a unique situation.”
He added: “Moving forward, the virus will not have the element of surprise.”
DeWine has resisted some previous legislative efforts to curb his administration’s coronavirus powers. In July, he vetoed a different bill seeking to decriminalizing violations of public health orders.
The other two bills DeWine signed Wednesday are:
House Bill 203, which requires mobile dental facilities to provide certain information to patients and to notify state regulators when they move or permanently close.
House Bill 341, which makes a number of changes designed to reduce opioid-related overdoses, including allowing pharmacists to administer long-acting anti-overdose drugs and exempting people who assist someone experiencing an opioid-related overdoes from legal damages.