Mike DeWine gets selective with his battles
Gov. faces struggles with health orders and gun restrictions
Though Gov. Mike DeWine calls a legislative bill that restricts his authority to issue health orders “unconstitutional,” he says he won’t challenge it in court.
DeWine said filing a court case over Senate Bill 22, which he vetoed March 23 and was followed a day later by a legislative override, “would end up in a long, protracted litigation that would take up a long period of time.”
The bill, backed by DeWine’s fellow Republicans in the state Legislature, gave them the authority to cancel any health orders issued by the governor that last longer than 30 days, allowed residents to sue over the constitutionality of a state emergency order and limited the ability of local health officials to require people to quarantine without a specific medical diagnosis.
It was the only override of a DeWine veto in his more than three years as governor and was a rebuke of his COVID-19 pandemic health orders.
In his veto message, DeWine wrote: “We believe that significant portions of SB 22 are unconstitutional. Parts of the bill violate the separation of powers doctrine in our Ohio Constitution, others violate” sections of the state constitution “proscribing how laws must be made and even other parts of the bill likely violate” the state constitution “by exercising power reserved to the judiciary.”
While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declined when the override occurred, both have hit record highs in recent weeks.
DeWine said during an interview this week with several Ohio newspaper editors and reporters: “We’re at a different point now. We have the vaccine, and people are also at a different point. After two years, people are sick of masks. They’re sick of any kind of restrictions. Part of what a leader has to gauge, part of what a governor has to always gauge is the willingness of people to adapt what it is I’m asking them to do.”
He added: “Those are all the things I have considered when I consider putting on a health order. What kind of a distraction would that be to the public when they see that battle every day and that confusion is caused by it when the real message and the real thing I want them to focus on is vaccinations?”
DeWine said he is staying focused on promoting the COVID-19 vaccines and not getting “dragged down into a mask issue or some other issue that is a distraction to the public and gets in the way of us getting our message across that it’s important still for people to get vaccinated.”
DeWine said he is “very optimistic about the future of the Valley.”
The governor said he told JobsOhio, which handles the state’s economic development, to focus a lot of its efforts on communities outside of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, which are Ohio’s most-populous cities.
“We’re going to pay attention to them but think about places like the Mahoning Valley,” he said.
DeWine said he’s particularly excited about Youngstown State University under the leadership of Jim Tressel, its president, calling it “a player in the community.”
He added: “They’re not separated from the community. They’re not just academia. They understand what’s going on in the community, and they understand they have the potential to be a significant factor in the community.”
DeWine said he’s also seen a “difference in people’s attitudes in the Mahoning Valley. I think the people are more optimistic, and that matters. The Mahoning Valley is a great place to raise a family. The cost of living is not high.”
Also, the area, “from a distribution point of view, is well situated,” he said.
Despite the state Legislature taking no action on DeWine’s gun reform proposal, introduced in October 2019, the governor said he believes two of his priorities can receive support this year from the General Assembly.
“We think my proposal was a good one,” he said. “Every proposal would have saved lives — every part of it. But that has not passed.”
He is optimistic legislators will approve a proposal to allow judges the ability to increase maximum prison sentences from the current three years to 10 years for those found with a gun while legally prohibited from having one.
“Pass that and pass a provision to mandate that certain offenses must be put into police databases,” he said. “So those are the two things we could pass. I wish we could pass the rest. I’m a pragmatist. I take this world as I find it, and the other parts are probably not going to pass this Legislature. I’m making an effort to pass these two pieces.”
DeWine’s Strong Ohio proposal also included a voluntary background check for gun sales between private sellers, increased penalties for selling guns to minors and permitted judges the ability to give stronger sentences to those convicted of felonies in which a gun was possessed or used.
The plan came after an August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton.
DeWine backed away from supporting a red flag law — that would allow police and relatives to have guns taken from people who pose a threat to themselves or others — because of a lack of support from lawmakers.
Instead, he proposed expanding pink slip laws allowing those with drug and alcohol problems to be separated from their guns while being evaluated by a doctor. That also hasn’t gone anywhere in the Legislature.
The imposition of the state’s death penalty, done by lethal injection, is at a “standstill,” DeWine said with drugmakers threatening not to sell medications in Ohio for other reasons if they’re used for carrying out death sentences.
“It’s currently the law and it remains the law, but we do not have the ability to carry it out,” he said.
It is up to the General Assembly to come up with another way of executions, and legislators haven’t shown interest in doing that.
Asked whether he still supports the death penalty, DeWine said: “I’m not going to get into it at this point. I have other issues to deal with, and this issue isn’t in front of me as the legislature takes no action.”
But he added: “I have said for a long, long time based on my experience as a prosecutor and my experience in the criminal justice system that you can argue the death penalty one way or the other. But if you want to impact violent crimes and save lives, the death penalty is not the most important thing to do. The most important thing to do is to target violent offenders and get them and lock them up.”
DeWine said he opposes legalization of marijuana for recreational use but is open to expanding it for medicinal purposes.
If recreational marijuana is legalized, DeWine said: “You’ll have two things. More kids (will be) in the emergency room with more kids ingesting gummy bears or something else made from marijuana. The second thing is you’ll have more people driving under the influence, and they’re going to be coming at you and you’re going to have more accidents and more people killed. So I think it’s ridiculous to add additional problems to problems we already have.”
If a recreational bill is put in front of him, DeWine said he wouldn’t sign it.
DeWine expects something to be worked out to expand medical marijuana.
“We are continuing to learn about that,” he said. “There’s bills in the legislature that would put the focus on what the individual doctor believes will help that patient and we should allow that under a regulated circumstance.”