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Though outnumbered, Ohio Senate Democrats say they can still have a significant impact

 Ohio Senate Democrats lay out priorities for the 135 General Assembly at the Ohio Statehouse
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Senate Democrats lay out priorities for the 135 General Assembly at the Ohio Statehouse

Ohio Senate Democrats believe there is still a path forward for their members to make a significant impact in the legislative process even though they are outnumbered by Republicans five-to-one.

There were still a few seats left at the 12-person table in the Ohio Senate Minority Caucus room after every member gathered for a meeting this week.

Those seven lawmakers say they know they don’t have the numbers to pass wide-sweeping legislation on their own. But they do see a path forward, even in this legislature where Republicans have added to their supermajority after the November 2022 election.

Focusing on key issues

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said her priorities include ending the death penalty, an idea that has been welcomed by some conservative members of the Ohio Legislature.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, hasn’t allowed the execution of a death row inmate since he’s taken office. He has often cited the shortage of drugs used for Ohio’s execution process for the reason behind that decision.

Antonio said she will continue to push for passage of the Ohio Fairness Act, a bill that would provide protection against discrimination for LGBTQ Ohioans.

The Fairness Act has received support from one of the state’s largest Republican-leaning business groups — the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in recent years. Antonio said she wants to end the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, an issue that has been illuminated in recent years.

Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) said he wants to continue to work with minority-owned, small businesses in Ohio to provide them with more access to capital and loans.

Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) said he wants to work on bills to make health care affordable and accessible. He also wants to provide low-income housing opportunities, workforce development, and do more to reform Ohio’s criminal justice system.

Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) says she will introduce a bill to help urban farmers. She also wants to expand Medicaid access and wants to work on protections for Lake Erie. As an African American lawmaker, she said she understands many women face discrimination for the way they wear their hair. So, she said she’ll introduce the “Crown Act," a bill to prevent discrimination based on hair type and style.

Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) said he wants to focus on improving life for low-income Ohioans, including backing pay bumps for low-income workers and pay equity for women.

He said he also wants to repeal some provisions of House Bill 6, the nuclear energy bailout bill that’s been at the heart of a federal corruption case involving, among others, the former speaker of the Ohio House and the former head of the Ohio Republican Party.

For Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati), changes to education are a top priority. She said she especially wants to deal with post-secondary education to make sure all students have options. She said more needs to be done to help young Ohioans with reducing their student debt and make housing affordable, something she said is necessary for Ohio’s future.

“As a realtor, if I’m trying to sell a home and I’ve got some young couple who want to move to Ohio but unfortunately, they have all of this student debt. Would they have that somewhere else? Absolutely. But what are we doing about it trying to lure them here?” Ingram asked.

Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) is not a newcomer to Ohio politics. He is the former executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party. But he is a new member of the Ohio Senate. He said he wants to support policies that benefit working Ohioans, and work on improving education options and affordability.

But he said he also wants to tackle legislation that would help older Ohioans by giving them more affordable options to keep them in their homes at the end of their lives.

Dems are spotting opportunities

Antonio said Senate Democrats are focusing on issues and will work with Republicans who are interested in the same interests.

Republicans in the Ohio Legislature sometimes find they are at odds with each other, especially in the House, Antonio said that might present an opportunity for Democrats to work on their priorities.

“Perhaps that means there is an opening that there are more things we can get done in the Senate if there is dysfunction in the other chamber. I also think there will be opportunities to team up with our Democratic colleagues in the House. We’ve done this when it comes to budget — stand firm on some issues and as a block, from both the Senate and the House, be able to make some changes,” Antonio said.

Antonio said she’s optimistic about the Senate in this General Assembly. Though Democrats are outnumbered by more than a five-to-one margin, she said Democrats can still have a meaningful impact on legislation but she said they will “have to be more creative, nimble, and collaborative” with the GOP majority.

Copyright 2023 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.