Ohio Democratic lawmakers propose several bills focused on aiding infants and parents
Democratic lawmakers in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate say they want to make it easier for parents to afford the costs of raising infants and children in the state.
The elected officials unveiled a legislative package featuring several bills to address that goal. That includes bills that would eliminate the sales taxes families pay for diapers and create a one-time $600 Infant Formula Tax Credit to help families afford those items.
There's also a measure that would require health insurers to cover medically-necessary human breast milk obtained through a donor bank.
The Democratic lawmakers want to create the Infant Nutrition Protection Act — a policy that would limit the price hikes that could be put on baby formulas when they are in short supply as they are right now.
A national shortage has resulted in bare grocery shelves in some areas and caused panic for people, particularly low-income families, who cannot find the formula they need for their infants.
In addition, the legislators are proposing the Ohio Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The act would require businesses to accommodate pregnant workers and adopt anti-discrimination standards, including the ability to breastfeed at work.
One of the plans proposed by the Democrats would allow parents who complete an online course on infant safe sleep practices to receive a baby box free of charge. A baby box is a bassinet-sized, laminated, cardboard box that is designed to provide a safe sleep environment for the first six months of an infant's life. The baby box would come with educational materials and essential items helpful to new and expecting parents such as diapers, baby wipes, and formula. Some studies have shown baby boxes help reduce infant mortality. Ohio has consistently had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said it makes sense to pass this legislative package, especially considering majority Republicans are poised to pass legislation to ban abortions in Ohio.
“While Republicans are taking away the freedom for families to make the decisions that’s best for them, we as Democrats are empowering Ohioans by insuring that all babies, children and families have the resources they need to thrive in this state," Russo said.
There isn't a cost estimate for all of the items in the proposed bills. But Russo said there is plenty of money available in state government to pay for it. She suggested some American Rescue Plan Act dollars could be used to pay for these items as well.
Sam Dillon, House majority caucus press secretary, said his party is proud of their record of supporting Ohio families.
“We’ve cut the personal income tax 3% across the board, helping Ohioans keep more of what they earn. We’ve expanded support for children’s health initiatives and provided record funding for Ohio schools. And we have provided more than $300 million to fight crime, combat illegal drugs and support the men and women of law enforcement and our first responders, including funding for training, body cameras and sexual assault testing expenses,” Dillon said.
John Fortney, Senate majority caucus communications director, took issue with the proposals and said he understands why they are in "panic mode."
“The Republican-sponsored budget that passed with bipartisan supermajorities increased funding for programs to reduce infant mortality, added postpartum coverage through Medicaid, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and helped expand access to reliable child care for moms and dads heading back to work after the pandemic. Our members have been doing the work that makes a difference while the party of Pelosi and Biden grows more out of touch with working families every day,” Fortney said in a written statement.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine said, in a written statement, that he is already supports some of the things the Democrats mentioned like eliminating the sales tax on diapers. The statement also said the governor has invested state dollars into prenatal and postnatal care and programming for low income Ohioans, has signed an executive order to ban discrimination against pregnant women, parents, adoptive parents and foster parents. And the statement said DeWine has established the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library which provides a free book each month to all Ohio children under five years old.