Ohio Republican pushes to end coronavirus-era closures, in split with DeWine

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A Republican lawmaker in Ohio introduced a bill this week to end Gov. Mike DeWine’s emergency declaration that’s restricted operations for many businesses and schools due to the coronavirus, as she pushes for her state’s economy to restart in full force.

The bill is representative of a growing divide in the Ohio Republican Party, with DeWine frequently citing public safety and a vocal, but growing, minority pushing for an end to restrictions enacted in the face of the deadly pandemic.

Republican State Rep. Diane Grendell introduced House Bill 763 after she said her office received hundreds of phone calls from constituents imploring her to reopen schools and businesses to help Ohio’s economy rebound.

Rep. Diane Grendell of Ohio has led a push to reopen schools and businesses in full.
(Ohio House, File)

“How are we ever going to get the revenue that we need to run the state?” Grendell said. “Every day, I’m getting calls that this business went down, this business went down.”

While initially supportive of the governor’s actions, Grendell has softened her stance on the state’s closures, especially in the face of federal inaction on a second coronavirus relief package.

People protesting against Ohio’s stay-at-home order, in Columbus back in April.
(REUTERS/Matthew Hatcher, File)

“We need to open Ohio. The reason we did it, started the closures, was because of the hospitalizations and the flood we were supposed to get,” Grendell told Fox News.

“How are we ever going to get the revenue that we need to run the state?”

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the state’s unemployment rate has sat around 9%, with over 500,000 people out of work. That’s a loss of about 269,000 jobs in the past year alone.

The state has seen just over 150,000 coronavirus cases, with over 15,000 hospitalizations and nearly 5,000 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health and Johns Hopkins University statistics. The state has ranked 25th out of 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico in coronavirus death rate.

Grendell, along with the governor’s office and progressive advocates in the state, acknowledged that inaction by federal lawmakers on a second coronavirus relief package has put state lawmakers in a bind. They’re forced to balance the needs for Ohioans to remain safe from the pandemic, but also to earn an income and pay rent.

“I think [federal politicians] have not acted in a way that really helps the economy and helps our people.”

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Department of Health declined comment to Fox News. It remained unclear if state Democrats or business groups would support Grendell’s effort, though she has remained skeptical her bill would gain bipartisan support.

“It’s crippling our state for years to come; we have long term effects from all of this,” Grendell said. “I think [federal politicians] have not acted in a way that really helps the economy and helps our people.”

DeWine’s office pushed back on the need to end all coronavirus restrictions, citing the risk of expanding the pandemic in a state that was early to act to keep cases and deaths down. Dan Tierney, the governor’s press secretary, said DeWine planned to veto any legislation, including Grendell’s, that would end his emergency declaration.

“Passing a bill will not change the facts on the ground regarding the virus. … Almost every single business in the state of Ohio is permitted to reopen. This is not an issue of Ohio businesses being closed.”

“Passing a bill will not change the facts on the ground regarding the virus,” Tierney told Fox News. “Almost every single business in the state of Ohio is permitted to reopen. This is not an issue of Ohio businesses being closed.”

Last week, ODH Interim Director Lance Himes penned an order allowing bars, banquets and catering facilities to reopen and use self-serve food stations across the state – so long as proper social distancing protocols were followed, according to local news reports.

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Grendell’s split with DeWine could be seen as a milder version of what’s been happening in some fringe elements of Ohio’s Republican Party. Earlier in the pandemic, Rep. John Becker led an effort to impeach DeWine over the coronavirus response. This week, he tried to charge the Republican governor of Ohio with terrorism but a local prosecutor rejected the push almost immediately, according to news reports. Both DeWine and Becker have remained in office.

One option yet to be enacted by DeWine: tapping into the state’s $2.7 billion rainy-day fund. Both Grendell and Tierney said they expected the governor to use the budget surplus to help Ohioans. It remained unclear what form that help would take in lieu of federal relief benefits.

“We will not hesitate to use the rainy-day fund if it’s needed,” Tierney told Fox News.

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