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Advocates for low-income, minority Ohioans call on House speaker to stop "divisive concepts" bill

Anti CRT sign Statehouse press conf July 2021.JPEG
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Attendees listen to speaker at a Statehouse press conference opposing the teaching of "critical race theory" in July 2021.

The groups said the so-called "divisive concepts" bill would have damaging effect on public health and will hurt the state's efforts to address health disparities.

Advocates for low-income and minority Ohioans are blasting a Republican-backed bill that goes beyond banning the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” or what some call “critical race theory” in just K-12 schools. And they want a key Republican leader to halt the bill entirely.

House Bill 327 would prevent K-12 schools, colleges and universities, state agencies and local governments from discussing racism in public policy in training and educational events.

The groups noted the state's infant mortality rate is three times higher for Black infants than white infants, and Black Ohioans have shorter lifespans than white Ohioans. Black Ohioans are also more to be overweight/obese, have adult onset diabetes, and experience long-term complications from diabetes.

And they said the bill is especially surprising because Ohio was the first state to create an Office of Minority Health, and that Gov. Mike DeWine launched a minority health strike force during the pandemic, to look into why COVID was hitting minority communities harder.

Tracy Najera is the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, and said the bill is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

"It will hurt. And instead create a myriad of challenges for educators, for state and local government agencies, and for nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the state of Ohio and local and local funding," Najera said. "It denies history. It denies data research and what's going on in everyday communities."

And she said groups receiving state grants would "lose their funding by attempting to address health disparities, and state or local governments would be barred from giving out funding to address health disparities going forward."

Democratic former state senator Charleta Tavares is the Chief Executive Officer of PrimaryOne Health, a nonprofit that operates health centers in Columbus. She said the bill could strip the funding of groups receiving state grants.

“Either you believe it's morally right to insure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of everyone, or you don't," Tavares said."And what this bill says, you don't you don't care about the cost. You don't care about the people, the people that legislators say they are here to serve.”

Some religious leaders are speaking out as well.

Rev. Tim Ahrens is the senior minister at Columbus’ First Congregational Church, and said the bill is morally bankrupt because it ignores obvious racial disparities.

"House Bill 327 represents an unprecedented attack on public health efforts for the least of these in Ohio," said Ahrens. "Every single one of us who call ourselves righteous should be ashamed. We should be united in an effort to create solutions to health disparities, not greater gaps.”

The groups are asking House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) to stop further hearings on the bill, which is a hot issue among GOP candidates.

"The legislature must acknowledge that the bill cannot be fixed. It cannot be amended to make it better," said Tim Johnson with the Ohio Poverty Law Center. "House Bill 327 must not move forward. Period."

There was no response to a request for comment from the bill’s Republican sponsors, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) and Rep. Sarah Arthur Fowler (R-Ashtabula). The bill had its first hearing in June and hasn't had a second one.

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