2020 In Ohio: No Action On Gun Reforms, Drug Sentencing Or Anti-Discrimination Bills
The Ohio General Assembly has wrapped up one of the most tumultuous years in state history, with a pandemic, economic downturn and bribery scandal all playing out at the same time. That left hundreds of bills on the table.
At the beginning of the 133rd General Assembly in 2019, legislators made criminal drug sentencing reform a priority. This was after advocating against Ballot Issue 1 in the 2018 election, saying those changes should be made in the legislature.
Senate Republicans and Democrats joined conservative and liberal advocacy groups in calling for passage of SB3, which turned low-level non-violent drug felonies into misdemeanors and favored treatment over prison time.
State Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon) says he believes in a justice system built to deter criminal behavior.
"I also believe that these objectives are not inherently exclusive of other restorative opportunities available to society and with which justice systems have been infused throughout human kind," Eklund said on the Senate floor in July.
The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House, with Republican leaders citing opposition from prosecutors and police who say the criminal penalties become a motivator for offenders to plea down to misdemeanors and treatment.
Another bill that saw no movement was Gov. Mike DeWine's gun regulation reform package, known as "STRONG Ohio," which he proposed after the 2019 mass shooting in Dayton. That package would have expanded background checks, give courts more power to confiscate weapons, and toughen penalties on violent offenders caught with a gun.
DeWine often used his COVID-19 briefings to highlight the gun violence problem, and the spike in homicides this year, and on the anniversary of the Dayton shooting he called on lawmakers to finally pass his bill.
"Sadly, Ohio's laws are exactly where they were a year ago," DeWine said in August. "Ohioans are saying to the state legislature, 'do something.' I'm calling on the General Assembly to advance the STRONG Ohio bill, we must not let the deaths of these nine people be forgotten."
But the legislature didn't move DeWine's gun reforms, instead passing a "Stand Your Ground" bill that DeWine hinted he will veto.
Other bills that didn't pass include HB3, "Aisha's Law," which toughens penalties for domestic abuse and creates more protection for survivors. The bill is named after Aisha Fraser, who was murdered by her ex-husband and former state legislator Lance Mason.
State Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) said the bill would create a system to shield survivors from future abuse by creating a lethality assessment upon the first report of violence.
"It expands the offense of aggravated murder to include domestic violence circumstances," said Boyd when the Ohio House approved the measure in May. "Under the bill, a person can be charged with aggravated murder if they purposely cause the death of another when the victim was a family or householder member of the offender, and the offender has previously been convicted of domestic violence resulting in serious physical harm and an offensive violence resulting in serious physical harm against the family or householder member."
However, "Aisha's Law" never received a full Senate vote.
Other legislation that didn't pass include the House and Senate bill that would legalize sports gambling, a bill to reduce the required training for barbers and cosmetologists, and a measure to allow judicial candidates to list their party designation on the ballot.
The "Ohio Fairness Act," a bill expanding anti-discrimination laws to protect sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, has now gone 12 years without passing the legislature.
State Sen. Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood) said the bill had more momentum this year, with bipartisan backing and the support of major business groups.
"I think it’s clearer, it’s concise, and it’s also very, very direct," said Antonio.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that federal civil rights laws apply to job discrimination against LGBTQ employees, and many cities in Ohio have already adopted local policies banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
Lawmakers plan to reintroduce many of the bills left on 2020's cutting room floor. Both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate are set to return with an even bigger Republican majority.