With a pandemic still in full swing, Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a bill that would have reopened county fairs.
Senate Bill 375, which would have voided a July public health order to restrict Ohio fairs to junior fairs only, passed the Ohio legislature in December with largely partisan votes and discussions.
In the Jan. 11 veto message, DeWine said the bill “is not in the best interest of protecting the health and safety of all Ohioans.” He reiterated that the July order was important for limiting the spread of COVID-19, while still preserving junior fairs.
Howard Call, executive director of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, said he wasn’t surprised by DeWine’s decision to veto the bill, but was disappointed and pointed again to concerns about fairs’ financial states.
“If we have another year of junior fairs [only], we will have fairs that will no longer exist,” Call said.
The same day, DeWine signed House Bill 665, a bill to update fair and amusement ride rules and give fairs more flexibility in their budgets.
The vetoed bill also would have created a working group to come up with guidelines for fairs and festivals in 2021. In 2020, DeWine established a fair advisory group to come up with recommendations for the 2020 fair season.
The Ohio Fair Managers Association was particularly supportive of this part of the bill. Call said the association is still hoping to see and be part of some type of advisory board to come up with guidelines and rules for fairs across the state.
“We really want to get our fairs open, and we need to get them open,” Call said.
DeWine said in 2021, his administration will continue to work with state and local health professionals, and with legislators and fair boards to come up with ways for fairs to operate safely.
“I look forward to their invaluable input … However, a blanket rescission of the current 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,” he wrote.
In the veto message, DeWine mentioned the funds the state deployed to fairs in 2020, including $50,000 for all that hosted a junior fair, $15,000 for those that had no fair, and a waiver of a match requirement for department of agriculture grants for fairgrounds improvements.
Call said, however, that while the money was a big help, it didn’t come close to covering all the revenue that many fairs lost. Between canceling senior fairs and having off season rentals and activities limited, many fairs are struggling.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has already released the dates for 2021 fairs. The first fair in Ohio, the Paulding County Fair, is set to begin June 12. Call is particularly concerned about fairs scheduled for June and July.
While the association was disappointed by the veto, Call said the fair managers were happy to see House Bill 665 signed.
The association is planning to work with legislators and DeWine to ensure that agriculture societies can start to plan for 2021, but Call was unable to give details at this point. He is hoping to see legislators and DeWine work together to allow fairs to open fully.
“The legislators have a huge interest in getting their county fairs back open,” he added. “But again, vaccine distribution is going to be the key for anything to happen.”
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