Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivered a relentlessly upbeat hour-long State of the State address Wednesday, his first such address in person since 2019.
Speaking to a joint session of the General Assembly, the governor ticked off a list of initiatives and teased upcoming legislation. DeWine is running for a second term, but faces three Republican challengers in the May 3 primary.
DeWine said the state has invested heavily in programs for mothers and children, and in combatting opiate exposure and lead paint contamination.
He praised House Bill 122, which made permanent the pandemic-related expansion of telehealth services. That bill was signed in December.
“And I’m pleased to say that this new law takes effect today,” DeWine said.
DeWine said Ohio is moving fast on environmental improvements, from replacing lead water pipes to cleaning up brownfields — former industrial sites.
“And while some people talk of defunding police, we’re doubling down on our support for law enforcement,” he said.
While “defund the police” became a rallying cry two years ago in the wake of George Floyd’s death, no effort to significantly cut police funding has passed in any major city or state.
In December, DeWine announced $250 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act would go to police and other first responders for various grant programs.
DeWine touted $1.2 billion cut from state spending and a $3.6 billion tax cut as drawing residents and employers to Ohio.
He cited Intel’s announcement last year that it will build two computer chip factories just northeast of Columbus. The $20 billion investment for that project’s first phase is the largest by a single company in state history, DeWine said. Many of the firm’s suppliers will move here as well, creating additional jobs, he said.
Ohio promised an incentive package of roughly $2 billion to secure Intel’s commitment.
Democrats noted that DeWine did not mention the long-running struggle over drawing new state House and Senate district maps. The state Supreme Court has multiple times overturned maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission — on which DeWine sits — as favoring Republicans, leaving candidates without defined districts less than two months before the scheduled partisan primary.
In an immediate Democratic rebuttal, Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, and House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said DeWine failed to credit the Biden administration for nearly $11 billion in federal funding that has fueled Ohio’s recovery and will pay for many of the projects he now promotes.
Following the August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, a crowd there chanted “Do something” at DeWine, urging action on gun control, Yuko said. But Ohio’s gun laws have only gotten looser. Yuko blamed rising gun deaths on easy access to guns.
Democrats have already filed legislation to accomplish much of what DeWine proposes in child care and health, plus paid family leave and “affordable and accessible” medical care, Russo said.
The tax cuts DeWine trumpeted were a windfall for the wealthy while doing little for working people, Russo said. And spending cuts included taking more than $1 billion from local-level governments over the past decade, money which needs to be restored, she said.
DeWine said he wants to see far greater state investment in mental health services, especially for children. Not only should more services be available at the local level, but mental health issues should be handled with respect, not treated as crimes, he said.
DeWine said specific proposals would emerge in the next few weeks that would require “major long-term commitment” for funding.
He’ll soon ask for more investment in state parks, and wants to create an investment program for Appalachian towns in Ohio.
Many children lack responsible adult role models, DeWine said, so he wants to create a mentorship program that offers scholarships to college students in exchange for mentoring at-risk youth.
“I will need your help, but I will also need your ideas,” he told legislators.
DeWine pushed for ratification of House Bill 283, which would bar the use of most electronic devices while driving.
“There were nearly 12,000 distracted driving related crashes last year in Ohio,” causing at least 43 deaths, he said.
DeWine called the state’s funding for continuing professional training for police “haphazard at best,” and urged the revival of a two-year-old bill cosponsored by state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, that would have not only created sustained funding but would monitor police use of force and discipline.
DeWine, who signed a stand your ground law last year and likewise approved permitless concealed carry of handguns earlier this month, blamed most gun crimes on “a small number of dangerous offenders.”
While Democrats have called for universal background checks, red flag laws and reinstatement of permit requirements, DeWine instead championed tougher sentencing for former felons caught with guns again.
Allies and opponents
In a news conference after DeWine’s speech, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, generally endorsed the governor’s proposals.
Harsher sentences for gun-carrying felons would probably be combined with “other criminal justice matters,” Huffman said.
“We can’t give up on redemption, let me put it that way. But sometimes you have to, when the protection of the public is at stake,” he said.
Huffman did say he has opposed an additional penalty for distracted driving, but that the Senate would consider the bill if it passes the House.
Neither legislator had any idea what DeWine’s initiatives might cost, though Huffman said some federal money is coming to deal with enormous water quality problems in southeast Ohio.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, and John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, both sought to tie DeWine to scandal-ridden House Bill 6, for which FirstEnergy has been accused of paying more than $60 million in bribes to get a $1.3 billion bailout of its two nuclear plants. That ongoing corruption case, in which neither DeWine nor any of his direct associates have been charged, was not mentioned in the State of the State speech or Republican follow-up.
State Rep. Tom West, D-Canton, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said DeWine’s description of the state’s bright future said nothing about Ohioans of color.
“Ohio cannot prosper if it does not create opportunities for everyone to thrive, regardless of their race,” West said.
Democrats want to make sure economic development projects are equitable for everyone, to address systemic racism in policing and to make health and safety improvements inclusive, he said.
The permitless concealed carry and “stand your ground” laws endanger Black people, and pending legislation to criminalize protesters’ actions would target minorities, West said.
Democrats are willing to work with DeWine but want their constituents’ voices heard, too, West said.
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