Wilkin

Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, speaks during an Ohio House of Representatives session on June 20, 2018. Wilkin’s House District 91 includes Clinton, Highland and Pike counties, as well as residents in a portion of Ross County.

COLUMBUS— COVID-19 has significantly altered the functions of businesses across the country, some even forced to close their doors for good.

Now through legislation sponsored by Pike County’s Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, Ohio small businesses can mostly continue operations amid emergencies.

On Thursday, the Ohio Business Fairness Act passed with unanimous support in the Ohio Senate and will now be sent to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk to go into law.

“Our goal was to make sure that businesses were being treated fairly and equitably,” Wilkin said. “After a discussion with a local business, it was obvious that they were not. This includes both larger and smaller businesses but in particular, it was crushing many of our small businesses and that is unacceptable.”

“Small businesses play an essential role in our state’s economy, as well as our local communities. It is crucial that they receive the support they need.”

Joined with fellow sponsor Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, House Bill 215 was introduced on March 16- one year to the date that gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, and movie theaters were closed as part of the statewide shutdown.

During that time, businesses deemed “essential” were permitted to continue business while “non-essential” ones remained closed. Often times, Wilkin said “big box” businesses were the ones that remained open while small family businesses were closed.

HB 215 will instead permit all businesses to operate by the same standard during pandemics, epidemics, or bioterrorism events. Imposed safety precautions would also be universal for businesses that remained open and those that were forced to close.

The passage of the Business Fairness Act was welcome news to the National Federation of Independent Business, who previously gave proponent testimony during a Small Business and Economic Opportunity Senate Committee session. Other groups backing the legislation included the Ohio Small Business Council and the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

NFIB Ohio Executive Director Roger Geiger said 30% of the federation’s member businesses were forced to cease operations during the pandemic. Now, businesses have more autonomy in how it proceeds during public health emergencies.

“There were many small businesses forced to close due to government orders issued in 2020 and were deemed non-essential. These businesses were not allowed to demonstrate their ability to open and operate safely. These predominantly small businesses were forced to close while other essential businesses could remain open selling similar or identical products and services to those shuttered businesses,” he said in a released statement. “All businesses are essential, now the government can be out of the business of picking winners and losers. NFIB played a key role in working with the Ohio Legislature in the bi-partisan passage of House Bill 215 on this high priority item for our members, and we look forward to it expediently receiving the signature of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.”

Contact Patrick Keck at pkeck@newswatchman.com or by phone at 740-947-2149, ext. 300431 and follow him on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

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