A sign in the Statehouse shows the Senate and the House directions
[Dan Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]

Senate Rejects Proposal To Require Written Consent For Contact Tracing

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A proposal from the Ohio House that would require people with COVID-19 give consent to contact tracing in writing has been rejected by the Senate. That sends the bill to a conference committee.

A dozen Senators voted for the amendment, which was attached to a bill that would shield 911 operators’ personal information from public records requests.

The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Kristina Roegner, urged agreement with the change, saying the amendment is “consistent with original intent of the bill” and that a conference committee is a “legislative purgatory at times”.

Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) was also among those who supported the amendment, saying afterward that he believes it’s important to protect privacy and ensure that people participating in contact tracing know it’s voluntary.

“But I recognize that there was a broad difference of opinion on whether the language that the House used was as good as it could be,” Obhof said.

This proposal wouldn’t make contact tracing voluntary – it already is.

Republicans have raised privacy concerns about contact tracing, which has been used in other states and countries to contain COVID-19 and other outbreaks.

Twenty-one Senators voted against the change – Democrats and Republicans. In floor debate, they cited concerns about inconvenience, on the effect it could have on contact tracing with future outbreaks, and whether it’s a proposal to “stick a finger in the eye of the governor”.

Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City), who’s a doctor, said he believes in consent, but written consent is “an overburden”, and that verbal consent is sufficient in many medical cases.

Changes possible in conference committee include allowing consent over the phone or limiting this proposal to just the current pandemic.