New Law Will Allow Ohio Businesses to Stay Open in Health Emergencies

By Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.
December 3, 2021 Updated: December 3, 2021

A law that allows businesses and industries to stay open in Ohio during a health emergency was signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on Dec. 1.

House Bill 215 is regarded as another step forward in the push back against the China Communist Party (CCP) virus to help safeguard the Buckeye State’s economy.

DeWine’s support of the bill, also known as the Fair Business Act, was a reversal of his decision last year to shut down non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That stance also required essential workers, such as those in healthcare, service, and government, to wear masks, and social distance.

After the state worked with numerous business leaders and labor organizations, it was realized companies with larger workforces could remain open, as they maintained safe workplace guidelines.

The bill was sponsored by State Reps Shane Wilkin and Jon Cross.

It reinforced safety standards—developed in coordination with numerous business and industry leaders—and allowed businesses and employers that follow safety protocols to remain in operation during health-related emergencies.

The bill was passed by the House 77-17 on May 5, and unanimously passed in the Senate by a 31-0 vote on Nov. 16. The “no” votes were from Democrats, who contended the language in the law was too broad.

“Ohio took the lead nationwide in working with businesses and industry leaders to help develop safe workplace guidelines and keep Ohioans working during the pandemic,” Gov. DeWine said in a statement.

“House Bill 215 reflects that business, and employers, can safely operate during a health emergency and affirms my commitment to working collaboratively with Ohio businesses to keep our economy strong as we emerge from this pandemic.”

DeWine’s stance during the shutdowns was a contentious one with Ohio lawmakers, as they saw businesses adjust to a remote workforce, restaurants go out of business, and community staple events—such as July 4 celebrations and county fairs—canceled.

But spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor changed his position because the chances were low that he would have to put similar business closures into place again.

“We just simply have another year of experience that tells us we have methods that work—short of those types of extreme measures,” Tierney said, offering masking, social distancing, and physical barriers as examples of such methods.

Wertz Variety Store in West Milton, Ohio, about 20 miles north of Dayton, has been in business for 94 years and one of its owners welcomed the new law. The old store, with narrow aisles and worn wooden floor, employs seven people.

“I’m all for it,” Georgie Wertz Woolery told the Epoch Times. “Small and independent businesses can’t afford to go through a shutdown like this again.”

Woolery’s brother, Wes Wertz, and their sister, PJ, own Wertz Hardware next door and employ four staff.

Woolery said that at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the store closed for eight days. But, after she saw that Joann Fabrics and Walmart remained opened, she said, “I thought, screw it, I’m going to stay open. It was either that or go out of business.”

“Our workers who didn’t feel safe, didn’t have to work,” Woolery added. “The ones who wanted to work, did. We all wore masks, and were diligent about washing off the counter and cash register.

“Joann Fabrics was considered an essential business because they were selling fabric for masks,” Woolery said. “Well, I sell fabric, too. Workers from two hospitals came in and bought all of my elastic for masks. A lot of other people who were making masks, came in and bought a lot of fabric.”

When rules surrounding the pandemic loosened up, customers flocked back into the store and showed great support, Woolery said.

“I think since this [the pandemic] has happened, more people are paying attention to supporting local and independent businesses.”

The state’s restaurant industry, and salons, were hit hard during the shutdowns with at least 3,150 going out of business, Ohio Restaurant Association spokesperson Jennifer Bushby told the Epoch Times.

The association—which promotes the restaurant industry, monitors laws, regulations and organizations’ events—has more than 2,000 members in 7,000 locations and is prepared to keep moving forward, Bushby said.

After an initial 14-day shutdown, restaurants were permitted to re-open with carry-out service.

Safeguards were put in place—such as physical barriers—and serve-safe certified managers and workers were required to be on site for cleaning.

Dining service returned on May 21, 2021, nearly two months after the state’s shutdown.

In the Dayton area some restaurant chains closed but, overall, the region did well, Miami Valley Restaurant Association executive director Amy Zahora said.

The association has more than 300 members.

It was a challenging time, but “everyone was trying to support them,” Zahora said.

“The restaurants got creative by limiting their menus, promoting their signature dishes for carry-out, and offering gift cards.

“We couldn’t do events during COVID but, now, I’m busy getting back to that.

“The law will help restaurants remain open during a health emergency but, right now, the problem for restaurants is finding workers,” she added. “Restaurants are busy. Everybody is happy to get back out.”

The bill was supported by numerous employer groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“A lot of lessons were learned during the COVID pandemic and, by signing this critically important piece of legislation into law, Gov. DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted recognize the important contributions Ohio small businesses made during this difficult time,” said state  NFIB executive director Roger Geiger in a statement.

“It sends a clear message that all Ohio businesses are important to the economy of our state.”

Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.