Ohio GOP rolls out 2023 priorities: controversial school, gender bills on list

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives put forth their priority legislation for this year Wednesday — a dozen bills that Speaker of the House Jason Stephens said will strengthen the Buckeye state.

“Ohio is our home and while that may seem obvious, we have work to do to ensure we can attract the brightest to come here and to stay here,” said Stephens, from Kitts Hill in south central Ohio. “We believe that we must prioritize policies that make Ohio more competitive, which means growing our economy, protecting our families, and educating our communities.”

Stephens said a total of 52 bills were referred to House committees. The 12 priority bills include measures that the Ohio House Republican Caucus said would lower taxes, fund Ohio K-12 schools, preserve parents’ rights in those schools, support affordable housing development, keep transgender girls out of girls school sports, and address maternal and infant mortality, among other efforts.

Stephens said, “The House Republicans are putting forth an agenda all about growing the economy, protecting Ohio families, and educating our communities.”

Ohio Democrats signaled their continuing interest in bipartisanship, despite staunch opposition to the transgender sports ban and the “backpack bill” that would have the state’s public education funding follow each child, even if they don’t go to public schools.

“This is where the real work of putting people over politics begins,” House Democratic Leader Allison Russo said in a statement. “There’s a lot we agree on, and some things we are miles away on.”

Most of the list’s priorities are being advanced by a coalition of deep-pocketed conservative leaders, groups and PACs that have backed Republican party censure and campaign-style attacks on the 22 of 67 House Republicans who joined all 32 House Democrats in supporting Stephens for speaker over state Rep. Derek Merrin.

Dayton-area state Rep. Phil Plummer, a key voice in Merrin’s faction, did not respond to requests for comment on the legislation Wednesday.

Stephens included the universal school voucher bill (the “backpack bill”) on the priority list — despite openly questioning the wisdom of such legislation earlier. The legislation would provide scholarships for every schoolchild, whether they’re attending public, private or even home schools.

Stephens said he also has referred a proposed ballot measure to committee that would make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution, raising the threshold for passage from 50% to 60%. A large coalition of voter advocacy, civil rights, labor and faith groups have vowed to fight the measure if lawmakers put it on the ballot.

Desiree Tims, CEO of the left-leaning Innovation Ohio group, called the ballot measure “a blatant power-grab” that “seeks to undermine our democracy and silence the voice of the people.”

Additional priority bills mentioned by the Republican caucus Wednesday include efforts to address the state’s teacher shortage, to invest in economic growth projects, to make it easier to adopt children, and to revamp the state’s Department of Education.

House Democrats said their focus is their “People First Agenda,” which they said invests in workers, families, teachers and students as a pathway to ensuring success for Ohio and all its citizens.

“Our People First Agenda puts people over politics and focuses on the bipartisan opportunities that create investments in families, children, workers and communities,” Russo said. “That can be seen in the bills introduced today championed by Democrats.”

One thing Russo said she doesn’t want to spend time on is “needless culture wars.”

“I’m hopeful we will show that Democrats and Republicans are capable of compromise and can put aside our differences to ensure every working family has the opportunities needed to prosper — no matter their zip code.”

Republicans’ priority bills

Ohio Speaker of the House Jason Stephens listed these 12 bills as top priority, and included the following descriptions. Legislative Service Commission analysis of the bills was not available Wednesday.

Growing our Economy

  • House Bill 1 - Lower and flatten our taxes to ensure all Ohioans can keep more of their hard-earned dollars.
  • House Bill 2 - Invest in projects across the state to foster economic growth and community development.
  • House Bill 3 - Support affordable housing development to draw additional economic opportunity.
  • House Bill 4 - Ensure an open market with diversified investment portfolios.

Protecting our Families

  • House Bill 5 - Make adoption more accessible and affordable for loving Ohio families.
  • House Bill 6 - Protect the integrity of girls’ sports and make certain that biological males cannot compete in female-only athletics.
  • House Bill 7 - Provide a strong foundation for both mothers and babies in their first 1,000 days to address maternal and infant mortality.
  • House Bill 8 - Preserve the fundamental role that parents play in the education of their children.

Educating our Communities

  • House Bill 9 - Address the teacher retention crisis.
  • House Bill 10 - Secure commitment for the ‘Fair School Funding Plan’ that is based on the cost of providing a quality education.
  • House Bill 11 - Create a child-first model for education, allowing students to have their educational funding follow them to the school that best suits their needs.
  • House Bill 12 - Recalibrate the State’s approach to education to serve Ohio’s students better for career readiness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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