Ohio policy areas to watch in 2020

This post originally appeared in the Ohio Capitol Journal on January 2, 2020

By Tyler Buchanan

Ohio legislators proposed more than 700 bills in 2019, with fewer than two-dozen being signed into law.

That means the state senators and representatives have plenty more to do in 2020, the second and final year of the 133rd General Assembly.

As we look ahead to this new year, here are five policy topics to keep an eye on in 2020:

Gun Laws

Following the mass shooting last August in Dayton that killed nine people, Gov. Mike DeWine proposed a number of weapons access and mental health reforms meant to stem gun violence in Ohio

Known as “STRONG Ohio” and introduced as Senate Bill 221, the initiative calls for increased gun safety programs in schools and increased penalties for violating existing gun laws. It also expands the reasons by which a person could be involuntarily committed to receive mental health treatment (known as a “pink slip”). DeWine had initially proposed instituting a “red flag” law and mandating background checks for all firearms purchases, but these components were later removed.

There have been several committee hearings on SB 221 and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, indicated on “The State of Ohio” show last week it would receive a fair process in the legislature. 

Meanwhile, another bill expanding the rights of gun owners is also being considered. Senate Bill 237, which would eliminate the “duty to retreat” requirement in self-defense law, has received several committee hearings in recent weeks

How the two bills will progress in 2020 will be a subject of focus for gun advocates and reformers alike. 

SB 3

One of the Ohio Senate’s priority pieces of legislation had a bumpier road in 2019 than expected. 

Senate Bill 3, introduced very early into the term, would alter Ohio’s criminal sentencing law by reclassifying possession of illicit drugs for personal use as misdemeanors instead of felonies. 

SB 3 is the only of the single-numbered bills to have not yet passed the Senate, despite receiving support from a range of groups — from the ACLU of Ohio to the Buckeye Institute. 

As the Capital Journal reported, the Judiciary Committee has spent 11 months considering the bill and toying with amendments. A recent amendment proposing stricter penalties for drug offenses committed in proximity to an addiction treatment center was heavily criticized and within days was dropped from the bill. 

A fresh look in 2020 may be what is needed to get the bill moving again. 

Education

Two veteran legislators teamed up in 2019 to propose a new school funding model they hope will bring more equity to the state’s public school system. 

Reps. Robert Cupp, R-Lima, and John Patterson, D-Jefferson, introduced House Bill 305 in June and its seen a half-dozen hearings in the Finance Committee since. Around two-dozen representatives from both parties have signed on as co-sponsors. 

Cupp and Patterson hope to finally resolve the issue of unfair school funding decades after the system was ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. 

Heartbeat Bill

Abortion was a controversial subject in the Statehouse in 2019 and signs are pointing to that continuing this coming year. 

Two bills, in particular, received great attention here in Ohio and beyond. Senate Bill 23, known as the “Heartbeat Bill” or “six-week abortion ban,” was ushered through by Republicans and signed into law by DeWine.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the bill from taking effect, citing Supreme Court precedent. 

More recently, Republicans have given support to House Bill 413, which creates criminal charges of “abortion murder” and “aggravated abortion murder.” A woman could be charged as well as a doctor performing the procedure, though the bill states that doctors can avoid being charged if they take “steps to preserve life,” including, “if applicable, attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus” — a procedure that does not exist in medical science. 

Details on all of the pending abortion bills being considered are reported by the Capital Journal here

Capital Budget

The Capital Budget is determined on even-numbered years and provides project funding for state agencies, universities, school districts and local communities. 

The state’s Office of Budget and Management (OBM) sent those entities guidance for how to submit requests in September, and the requests were due back a month later. OBM is currently reviewing them and the General Assembly will consider the eventual budget proposals in early 2020. 

The last capital budget included $625 million toward school district projects, $400 million for higher education projects and $439 million for local infrastructure projects.