Republican Ohio House Speaker unveils priorities, and his GOP opponent agrees but pushes back
After weeks of no bills formally introduced with bill numbers, the Ohio House Speaker and his leadership team has introduced their priority bills, ranging from property tax changes to adoption to trans athletes in school sports.
House Republicans tied to Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) stood with him as he cited 12 priorities among the more than 50 bills that were given numbers and referred to committees - from property and income tax changes, to an affordable housing tax credit, to the universal voucher program known as the ‘Backpack Bill’, to banning trans athletes from girls’ sports.
Here's the full priority list for the Stephens team:
- House Bill 1 - To modify the law regarding property taxation and income tax rates
- House Bill 2 - To declare the intent of the General Assembly to direct state funds to projects across the state for economic growth and community development
- House Bill 3 - To formally state the General Assembly’s intention to authorize an affordable housing tax credit
- House Bill 4 - To declare the General Assembly’s intention to enact legislation regarding financial institutions and other businesses that conduct economic boycotts or discriminate against certain companies or customers based on certain factors
- House Bill 5 - To express the General Assembly’s intent to modernize the adoption process
- House Bill 6 - To enact the "Save Women’s Sports Act" to require schools, state institutions of higher education, and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex
- House Bill 7 - To express the General Assembly’s intent to support strong foundations for mothers and babies to address maternal and infant mortality and improve health and developmental outcomes, and to name this act the Strong Foundations Act
- House Bill 8 - To enact the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to require public schools to adopt a policy on parental notification on student health and well-being and instructional materials with sexually explicit content
- House Bill 9 - To establish the "Grow Your Own Teacher Program", to establish a loan repayment program for eligible teachers, to make changes to teacher licensing and professional development, and to make an appropriation
- House Bill 10 - To express the intent of the General Assembly to continue phasing-in the school financing system established in H.B. 110 of the 134th General Assembly and, if practicable, fully phase it in
- House Bill 11 - To establish the "Backpack Scholarship Program" to begin operating for the 2023-2024 school year, to repeal the Educational Choice Scholarship Pilot Program and the Pilot Project Scholarship Program on July 1, 2024, and to make an appropriation
- House Bill 12 - To rename the Department of Education as the Department of Education and Workforce; to create the position of Director of Education and Workforce; and to reform the functions and responsibilities of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction
“We all want Ohio to be our home and not only our home, but others’ and our families. And by doing the things that we have listed, we believe that is going to help make that happen," Stephens said.
There are Democratic co-sponsors on the bills on economic development, the affordable housing tax credit, adoption, maternal and infant mortality, teacher recruitment and school funding. But some proposals, such as the "Backpack Bill" and the "Save Women's Sports Act", were specifically cited by Democrats as discussion points with Stephens in their decision to support him for speaker over conservative Republican Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township).
Merrin and his supporters held their own press conference a few hours later.
Merrin said his caucus of more than 40 members "has grown disappointed in the lack of activity in the House". He said he's still reviewing the Stephens priority list, and while there are bills that he's "excited about", there are also "missing gaps".
One of those is the proposal to require 60% approval of voters for constitutional amendments, which Stephens said has been assigned to a committee chaired by Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster), a Merrin supporter.
"The number one issue right now is protecting our constitution from liberal interests that look to hijack our constitution," Merrin said. "We can pass whatever bill we want in the House, in the Senate. But if we're going to allow our constitution to be hijacked, it completely ruins all the work that the people's representatives have done."
Merrin said his caucus will release its own "broad agenda".
Merrin and others in his caucus have said Stephens gave up power to Democrats to get their votes for speaker. After seeing Stephens' priority list, including bills Democrats will certainly oppose, Merrin said he's bothered by the number of priority bills with Democratic co-sponsors.
"I want everyone to have something that they can champion. When you have a 67 person Republican majority, as a Republican leader of the House, I want 67 members to get wins," Merrin said. "So right now, there are great bills that are in the pipeline. And the speaker's trying to make sure the Democrats can get put on them when they're Republican ideas."
Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said in a statement that reads in part:
“There’s a lot we agree on, and some things we are miles away on. Our People First Agenda puts people over politics and focuses on the bipartisan opportunities that create investments in families, children, workers and communities....However, our bipartisan efforts should never be confused with being beholden to any form of extremist legislation that’s meant to drive people apart with needles[s] culture wars. These issues are a distraction from the real work needed to get done to improve the lives of all Ohioans.”