LOGAN — The Hocking County Fair Board hoped for some good news this week but is now in a state of limbo after Ohio’s governor vetoed Ohio Senate Bill 375 — legislation that was seeking to void an executive order limiting activities at county fairs.
Earlier this month, Ohio Sen. Tim Schaffer visited with The Logan Daily News to discuss recent legislation being worked on at the state level. At that time, Schaffer explained the importance of Senate Bill 375, which seeks to void a health order limiting county fair attendance and attractions.
According to the Ohio Legislature, the primary sponsors for the bill were Sen. Schaffer along with Sen. Frank Hoagland. In essence, the legislation overturns the Ohio Department of Health director’s order limiting county fairs and junior fair activities, which was issued on July 30, 2020.
The bill also creates the Agriculture and Society Group for 2021, requires this working group to study and recommend protocols for safe operations, and also terminates the group in February of 2022.
The order applied to all county fairs unless the director of health modified or rescinded it. The order limited county fairs to junior fair activities such as livestock shows and exhibits, activities Schaffer said need to be protected.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine vetoed the legislation on Monday this week, leaving the Hocking County Fair Board in a state of limbo. Board Secretary Jessica Dicken said she was made aware of the governor’s veto on Monday night.
“We were anticipating… maybe to send it back (to the general assembly), but unfortunately he did veto (the bill) which puts us in kind of a predicament in how we move forward,” Dicken told The Logan Daily News.
Last year, the intent was to have a full fair in Hocking County. However, sudden changes prompted the board to limit the fair to only animal showcase events for its junior fair.
“It left us in limbo for many months,” Dicken commented.
The changes in 2020 also brought in challenging contract changes for vendors and other fair attractions. Rides at last year’s fair were absent as part of the state’s public health order leaving the fairgrounds largely bare.
Dicken said that the direction fairs can go this year is uncertain given the current public health climate. Like others, Dicken is wondering if the fair this year will be the same as the year prior, something she hopes the board will not have to do.
As the senator noted earlier this month, county fair boards require a lengthy amount of time in order to properly organize contracts, attractions and show times.
As he was concluding his visit, Schaffer reported that the bill was awaiting the governor’s signature. On Monday, Jan. 11, DeWine vetoed the bill under the authority of Article II, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution.
In explaining the reasoning behind his decision to veto the bill, DeWine mentioned how hard the decision was to order limits on county fairs, but added that it was a necessary move to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
During the 2020 fair season, many county and independent fairs, including Hocking County’s, chose to operate under the state’s guidance. The governor’s administration and the state legislature were able to get financial relief to 94 agricultural societies.
On June 9, 2020, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and DeWine announced that $4.7 million were issued to local fairs with $50,000 for each fair operating a junior fair in 2020. Those that chose not to conduct a junior fair were given $15,000, which can be used in the 2021 season.
According to Dicken, on just the junior fair side alone, costs to put it on were over $30,000. With no income, all state funding was put to use, and the fair board was left with “nothing.”
In April of last year, the governor also announced that the Ohio Department of Agriculture had waived the $50,000 local match requirement for the Agriculture Society Grant Program. The move was made to make sure state funding continued while some fair boards experienced financial hardships.
Gov. DeWine wrote in his veto statements that it is “essential” that any relevant bills receive input from the General Assembly and local fair boards in the state.
“I look forward to their invaluable input as we anticipate the 2021 fair season,” DeWine wrote. “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.”
Dicken and the rest of the fair board are banking on the hope that a full fair will happen this year. The board is still in regular contact with the Hocking County Health Department who guided the fair’s COVID-19 prevention in 2020.
“We can’t have another 2020,” Dicken said.