Ohio House passes bipartisan bill to prevent small business shutdowns

Ohio House passes bipartisan bill to prevent small business shutdowns

House Bill 621, or the Business Fairness Act, would protect businesses from outright closures during COVID-19 pandemic and guarantee that small businesses are able to earn a livelihood.

The Ohio House passed House Bill 621, or the Business Fairness Act, with wide bipartisan support on Nov. 18, voting 77-10. The bill is cosponsored by state Reps. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, and Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro.

The Ohio Senate has begun consideration of the bill on its first day back in session, where it received a committee hearing Dec. 2 in front of the Senate Transportation, Commerce & Workforce Committee.

The Business Fairness Act would allow businesses to continue operating during a public health emergency, preventing blanket shutdowns because certain services and businesses are deemed “nonessential.”

“All businesses are essential and deserve a chance to fairly compete during the pandemic,” said Cross in a statement following the bill’s House passage. “It is unfair large retail chains are able to keep their doors open while small businesses are getting crushed.”

Sponsors of the bill have also argued it can head off lawsuits related to business shutdowns and free up the governor’s administration to focus on pressing pandemic concerns.

Instead of picking winners and losers by labeling some businesses “essential” while others “nonessential,” the supporters of the bill say it would guarantee small businesses are able to continue earning a livelihood while abiding by same health restrictions required of other businesses. Moreover, supporters add that the governor should work with the legislature on reasonable regulations that are equitable towards small businesses.

“We’re just simply saying you’re more than free to impose reasonable regulations on these businesses to slow the spread of a contagious illness,” said Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napolean. “You just can’t outright close them and leave them stranded high and dry.”

Lawmakers in the state Senate are also considering amending the bill to include stronger language, explicitly prohibiting statewide and regional economic shutdowns.

DeWine, however, has promised to veto the Business Fairness Act if it reaches his desk, calling the bill a “direct attack on public health.”

Unfortunately, the Business Fairness Act, if passed, won’t be able to provide immediate relief to small businesses across Ohio. If the bill passes the Senate, receives a veto and the Ohio General Assembly successfully overrides the governor’s veto, the bill will take effect 90 days after final passage – since it does not contain an emergency clause.

Nonetheless, lawmakers in Columbus should take action to pass the Business Fairness Act to protect the ability of small businesses to earn a livelihood. Moreover, Gov. DeWine should work with the General Assembly in crafting reasonable regulations that ensure not only health and safety, but recognize the economic hardship small businesses across Ohio are facing.

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