The abrupt resignation of the Ohio House speaker, an internal fight over picking the next leader and competitive midterm elections put a lot of work in the General Assembly on hold for weeks on end in 2018.
But now as the two-year legislative session ticks down, lawmakers are trying to sort through what needs to be done in the next 10 days. And there are more than 100 bills in the Statehouse pipeline, including measures to curtail child marriage, help local jurisdictions crack down on owners of vicious dogs and address the alarming rise in youth suicide.
Ohio Department of Health data shows suicide among Ohioans under age 30 have increased by one-third over the past decade: 319 in 2008 to 427 in 2017.
Among those under age 20, the number spiked 81 percent, from 69 in 2007 to 125 in 2017. Suicide among all ages between 2007 and 2017 has increased 37 percent.
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The Senate Education Committee on Thursday voted 11-0 in favor of House Bill 502, which would increase the frequency of training K-12 educators receive on identifying warning signs of youth suicide. Instead of receiving in-service training every five years, teachers, counselors, school nurses and others would go through it every other year.
House Bill 511, which would raise the marriage age to 18 for both brides and grooms but allow 17-year-olds to marry under certain circumstances, is also pending in the Senate. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 9-0 vote last week but has yet to advance beyond that.
Ohio law requires brides to be at least 16 and grooms to be at least 18, but exceptions are made for younger, pregnant teens if they have parental consent and juvenile court approval. That effectively means there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Ohio.
A Dayton Daily News investigation documented 4,443 cases between 2000 and 2015 of girls 17 or younger getting married, including 59 who were 15 or younger.
So far, legislative leaders are giving little indication about which bills they’ll put up for floor votes this week.
“We’ll see. I’m not sure how busy next week will be, but we’ll be back at least once,” said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, last week when asked what his priorities are for moving bills.
Vicious dog bill unlikely to advance
Any bills that haven’t received final approval by both chambers by the end of December die. Lawmakers would have to re-introduce the legislation next year. For example, state Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, who is leaving due to term limits, acknowledged that it’s unlikely the Klonda Richey Act — his set of proposed changes to toughen existing law on vicious dogs — will be approved this month.
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, has said he will take up the vicious dog issue in January.
The last scheduled voting day is Dec. 19. Legislative leaders could call lawmakers into session through Dec. 31, but many representatives and senators have already made holiday plans.
December marks the end of the 132st General Assembly, a legislative session marked by political upheaval, resignations and the shadow of a federal investigation.
In March 2017, Hamilton Republican Wes Retherford was arrested after he was found passed out in his truck at a McDonald’s drive-through. In October 2017, Findlay Republican Cliff Hite resigned from the Ohio Senate after sexual harassment allegations became public. A month later, then state Rep. Wes Goodman, R-Cardington, resigned when confronted over “inappropriate” behavior with a man in his state office.
The Ohio House was thrown into disarray in April 2018 when then speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, admitted that he had hired a criminal defense attorney to deal with an FBI inquiry and that he was resigning. A month later, FBI agents raided his home and storage unit. A search warrant and subpoena delivered to the Ohio House in May and released in August show federal authorities are trying to build a public corruption case against Rosenberger and three payday lending industry lobbyists. Rosenberger has maintained that all his actions as speaker were lawful and ethical.
An internal fight over who would replace Rosenberger dragged on for two months until Republicans picked Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, as the new speaker.
That fight is flaring up again. House Republicans have yet to call a vote on who will be speaker in January.