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2020 Year In Review - Pandemic, Leadership Shake Up Leaves Bills On Cutting Room Floor

2020 Year In Review
Dan Konik

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. With so many moving pieces, there are hundreds of bills left 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 the change 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. 

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 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 (R-Ohio) gun regulation reform package which expanded background checks, gave courts more power to confiscate weapons, and toughened penalties on violent offenders caught with a gun. 

DeWine used his COVID-19 briefings to highlight the gun violence problem and on the anniversary of the Dayton mass shooting he continued his calls for lawmakers to pass the bill. 

"Sadly, Ohio's laws are exactly where they were a year ago. 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," DeWine said in August.

But the legislature didn't move DeWine's gun reform.   

Other bills that didn't pass include HB3, Aisha's Law, which toughens penalties for domestic abuse and creates more protection for victims. 

The bill is named after Aisha Fraser who was murdered by her ex-husband and former state legislator Lance Mason. Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) said the bill would create a system to shield victims 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. 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," said Boyd when the Ohio House approved the measure in May, but the bill 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 reducing required training for barbers and cosmetologists, and a measure to allow judicial candidates to list their party designation on the ballot.  

The bill to expand discrimination laws to make sexual orientation and gender identity and expression protected classes, known as the Ohio Fairness Act, has now gone 12 years without passing the legislature. 

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. 

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. 

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