DeWine vetoes bill lifting limits on county fairs this summer

DeWine vetoes bill lifting limits on county fairs this summer

Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a bill that would let county fairs to bring back regular events and programming for the upcoming fair season, putting a damper on those looking for respite from restrictions this summer.

In another rebuke to the General Assembly, Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed Jan. 11 a bill that would allow county fairs to re-open to more attractions this coming summer season.

Senate Bill 375, co-sponsored by state Sens. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, and Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, looked to void the July 30, 2020 health order that limited county fairs to only junior fair events.

DeWine once again acted on his pledge to veto any bill that targets or interferes with the Ohio Department of Health’s authority to issue COVID-19 orders.

In his veto message, DeWine said the “blanket recission” of the country fairs order “does not achieve the goal of working together to properly plan the upcoming fair season while ensuring the public health and protection of the people of Ohio.”

While the state moved to prohibit public gatherings at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county fair season was allowed to go ahead as planned in June 2020. However, the state health department reversed course in late July, issuing a statewide order limiting county fairs to hosting only “junior fair” events – which include youth animal showings and other 4-H activities that promote agricultural interests.

SB 375 attempted to override that order, allowing county fairs to return to regular programming while maintaining other health and safety precautions.

“As the 2021 fair season is set to begin in June, my administration will continue to consult with health professionals on the state and local level,” DeWine added in his veto message. “It is imperative that such fairs be conducted in a safe manner that reflect the facts on the ground at the time.”

“It’s very disappointing,” Rodney Arter, president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association Board of Directors, said of DeWine’s veto. “But we’re going to continue to push forward.”

Despite the current order staying in effect and future uncertainty, many are going ahead with plans to reopen as usual – in the event that full county fairs are given the green light closer to summer. “It’s still a go. We’re still getting ready for it even though things are still up in the air,” said Trumbull County Fair board member Jack Lammers, whose county fair will be celebrating its 175th year.

“The vaccine could be a huge benefit. I think the fairs still need to pay attention to health factors,” he added.

State lawmakers have begun to explore other routes to checking the state health agency’s power and reigning in the governor’s broad authority to extend statewide health orders without legislative input.

Lawmakers are looking to a potential oversight commission that could be tasked with reviewing public health orders like those seen throughout the state’s COVID-19 response, as well as having the authority to vote on whether an order may be extended beyond an initial period of time.

State policymakers should look to new avenues in returning lawmaking power to the General Assembly, allowing restrictions to be amended to treat county fairs and small businesses with greater fairness.

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