Unfinished business: Ohio legislators will return to multiple controversial bills in the fall

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

State lawmakers have a lot awaiting them in the fall. First an election, then a pile of pending legislation.

“It’s going to be a normal lame-duck (session),” said state Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London.

Some of those voting on legislation will know their terms will be ending at the start of 2023.

The General Assembly has a session scheduled “if needed” in September, but if that’s not used, legislators are not expected to reconvene until after the Nov. 8 general election.

Lame-duck sessions are sometimes used to get controversial items passed, Hackett said.

Perhaps the most prominent of those is Substitute HB 151. Near the end of the House’s final spring session on the night of June 1, state Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, slipped the “Save Women’s Sports Act” into an unrelated bill as an amendment on the House floor.

That bypassed the public committee process, and the bill passed the House. Powell tried the same tactic last year only to see that attempt fail after Gov. Mike DeWine spoke against it.

Substitute HB 151 would prohibit schools, state universities, private colleges and interscholastic sports bodies from allowing “individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex.”

It only addresses athletes who transition male-to-female, not female-to-male. Opponents have pointed out it could require genital inspections of any student whose gender is questioned.

Hackett indicated he might support some version of the legislation.

“If the bill comes over to the Senate I think we’ll change it a little to make it more acceptable to the Democrats. But we’ll just wait and see,” he said.

Following the bill’s June 1 passage of the House, DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor was “monitoring the legislation” and confirmed that DeWine had previously said transgender athlete issues should be handled by sports officials, not legislators.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said last week he’d like to “get results” on transgender athletics by the end of this year.

“I think that we need to deal with that issue,” he said. “I think we’ll take it up in November.”

Huffman said he had no opinion on the prospect of testing or inspecting student athletes for biological sex confirmation. But he said he wanted to avoid the “considerable stomach upset” of passing legislation by insertion into unrelated bills.

“I think it’s a bad way to change policy,” Huffman said.

He expects the bill would still move through the Senate via standard committee hearings.

General principles

None of the legislators contacted mentioned reviving bills against requiring vaccination, masks or other public health measures. Several bills on those subjects got extensive debate last year, but all failed due to internal Republican disagreements on whether government should prevent private businesses from creating their own rules. Similar attempts in other states also lost support as most restrictions related to COVID-19 relaxed.

Hackett said his key issues are always economic. He expects the General Assembly’s track record of tax cuts will continue in next year’s state budget.

“A lot depends on how the elections turn out,” Hackett said.

He’s confident Republicans will do well this year. They’re favored nationally, and the state House and Senate district maps imposed by a panel of federal judges for use in this election cycle will likely maintain a strong Republican majority in the legislature.

“Economic and workforce development will continue to be top priorities for our state and the legislature,” said House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima. “There has also been a lot of deliberation regarding publicly-funded childcare here in Ohio, which is important.”

Continued high gas prices may give more traction to SB 277, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City. It would cut the state fuel tax back to 28 cents per gallon for both gasoline and diesel for five years, then return the tax to its current level of 38.5 cents for gasoline and 47 cents for diesel fuel.

It would also suspend for five years collection of the additional registration fee for hybrid or electric vehicles: $100 a year for hybrids, and $200 for electric vehicles.

Huffman introduced the bill in December but so far it has had only one hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Abortion and sexual abuse

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, said he expects the House to react to the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. The court is considering a challenge to a Mississippi law that banned most abortions, and in May a draft opinion leaked that indicated the court may overturn Roe.

That set off a flurry of legislation in various states — some defending legal abortion, but many including Ohio preparing to ban it if the Supreme Court allows. A final ruling is expected this month.

One related bill is HB 598, sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland. It’s a “trigger ban” that would outlaw abortion in Ohio if Roe is overturned. Currently the bill does not include exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

“They’re waiting to see what the decision is by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Koehler said. “The bill that will pass will be drafted after the Supreme Court rules, or if they rule.”

Schmidt’s bill would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions.

Asked if the General Assembly might reconvene this summer to pass abortion legislation, Senate President Matt Huffman wouldn’t say.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “When we get the (Supreme Court) decision, we’re going to make that decision.”

State Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said several legislators have expressed puzzlement that their bills which have attracted no public opposition haven’t moved through committee. That’s true for him as well.

Chief among Lipps’ priorities is HB 105, “Erin’s Law,” which he cosponsors with state Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati. It would require schools each year to provide age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention for grades K-6, and age-appropriate instruction in sexual violence prevention education for grades 7-12. Parents or guardians would be notified of the scheduled lesson and allowed on request to inspect the instructional material.

Named for Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, laws similar to HB 105 have passed in 37 states but failed repeatedly in Ohio. Lipps’ bill passed the House a year ago but has languished in a Senate committee ever since. It got a third hearing, but no vote, on June 9 when Merryn herself came to endorse it. But that was the day after the spring’s final Senate session.

The bill has attracted no open opposition, but Lipps said behind-the-scenes pressure from the Center for Christian Virtue has kept HB 105 bottled up in the Senate Primary & Secondary Education Committee.

“CCV seems to have tremendous influence on this bill, and I don’t understand this at all,” he said.

Lipps said he has enough support for the bill to pass out of committee and the full Senate if only it’s brought up for a vote. He doesn’t want to make sexual abuse survivors keep coming back to testify.

“I have zero interest in putting the victims and survivors through that again,” Lipps said.

Crimes old and new

Cupp said the House has passed or is working on several criminal justice measures.

“On May 18, for example, the House passed ‘Marsy’s Law,’ which is state Rep. Andrea White’s legislation to ensure crime victims are treated fairly and have the opportunity to exercise their rights in our criminal justice system,” he said.

Also known as the “Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights,” it’s named for Marsy Nicholas, a California woman murdered in 1983. Starting with California in 2008, several states have adopted it as a constitutional amendment, including Ohio in 2017.

White’s HB 343 would greatly expand Marsy’s Law, including:

· Allowing crime victims’ representatives to exercise victims’ legal rights, not just the victims themselves.

· Requiring police and court officials to give victims more information; and giving the victim a right to be notified, present and heard in any relevant proceeding except a grand jury. That includes probation and parole hearings and is emphasized for plea or sentencing hearings.

· Expanding the ability to testify by deposition or recording instead of in-person appearance.

· Adding workplace protections for victims, along with keeping their identifying information private.

· Putting some limits on defendants’ ability to subpoena or interview victims.

· Specifying that the cost of an ankle monitor for a misdemeanor offender can be imposed on the offender as a financial sanction, and expanding the rules for financial restitution to lower-level and juvenile offenses.

The bill is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee but hasn’t yet had a hearing.

Koehler has high hopes for a bill he’s sponsoring, HB 383. The bill, which would stiffen penalties for criminals who are repeatedly found with firearms, has been favorably mentioned at least twice by Gov. Mike DeWine; and Koehler said Cupp has promised it will come up for a vote by the full House.

When someone not legally allowed to own a gun is caught with one, they can be sentenced to up to 36 months in prison, Koehler said. But that charge doesn’t come with the presumption that prison time is inevitable, so those not yet convicted are often released within a couple of days, he said.

Koehler’s bill would increase the penalty to at least nine months in jail, and a second arrest on the same charge would require a judge to keep that person in jail. A third offense would come with a mandatory 2 to 8 years in prison, he said.

Hackett is also waiting to see if Senators will get to vote on HB 283, which would revise the law for cell phone use while driving. He named that issue as a priority nearly a year ago.

“Distracted driving is a key issue for a lot of us, but it’s hard to get it through the House,” Hackett said.

State Reps. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, and Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, introduced HB 28e in May 2021. It has had four hearings in the House Criminal Justice Committee; Hackett said Cupp wants to be assured of 60 votes for the bill before it comes for a floor vote, but only 48 are confirmed thus far. The Senate may need to pass a matching version first, Hackett said.

House Bill 283 would allow police to stop and ticket drivers solely for using mobile phones on the road, and tightens the requirement to use only hands-free devices when driving. Those standards match a model bill from the National Council of Insurance Legislators, in which Hackett is active.

More in process

Another bill Lipps cosponsors with Kelly would require all Ohio employers to provide workers’ access to their paycheck stubs. That’s something that most people take for granted, so Lipps can’t understand why HB 187 has been stuck in the Senate Small Business & Economic Opportunity Committee for a year.

“That bill came out of the House unanimously,” he said.

And there’s HB 236, which Lipps cosponsors with state Rep. Mark Fraizer, R-Newark. That bill, to regulate the processing and sale of kratom, passed the House in February but is still in the Senate Health Committee.

Kratom, a powdered herbal substance from southeast Asia, is often used by people trying to wean themselves from opioids; but there have been reports of illness and death resulting from its adulteration with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. House Bill 236 would put “guardrails around kratom,” Lipps said, ensuring its purity and enabling safe use.

White, R-Kettering, has several bills progressing. House Bill 608 would require biomarker testing to be covered by state-regulated insurance plans, including Medicaid, but only if it meets medical guidelines.

Biomarkers are signs of disease or genetic mutation that can be spotted in blood or tissue. Tests have been developed to use biomarkers in cancer treatment, identifying treatments specifically effective for types of cancer.

White and state Rep. Tom West, D-Canton, introduced HB 608 on March 29. It was referred to the House Insurance Committee and had a first hearing May 25. The bill is based on national model legislation that has passed or is being considered in several states, White said.

In May, White and state Rep. Tom Young, R-Washington Twp., introduced HB 639. Dubbed the Student Protection Act, it would require that students entering ninth grade have self-defense training as part of their mandatory health instruction. It would start with students entering high school after July 2023.

House Bill 639 is in the House Health Committee but hasn’t had a hearing yet.

Quick look: Upcoming legislation

Substitute House Bill 151: Prohibit schools and school sports groups from allowing male-to-female transgender athletes to play on girls’ sports teams.

House Bill 598: Make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

House Bill 105: “Erin’s Law,” would require schools to provide annual age-appropriate instruction in child sexual abuse prevention for grades K-6, and age-appropriate instruction in sexual violence prevention education for grades 7-12.

House Bill 343: Greatly expanding crime victims’ rights under “Marsy’s Law.”

House Bill 383: Increasing sentences for criminals repeatedly caught with illegal firearms.

House Bill 236: Ensure the purity of kratom, an herbal substance that can have opioid-like effects

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