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Sponsor of controversial higher ed bill questions Speaker's claim it can't pass the Ohio House

The Ohio University Alumni Gateway against a bright blue sky
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Like colleges across Ohio, enrollment at Ohio University has declined over the past decade.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday for the controversial higher education bill backed by Republicans who say it will stem what they see as liberal bias in Ohio’s public universities. That hearing is still set even though Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said Tuesday the bill doesn’t have the votes to pass the House.

Senate Bill 83's sponsor, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), said he dropped a ban on faculty strikes from SB 83 to get it through the House. He said he found out about Stephens’ comments from media reports, and hasn't heard from Stephens himself.

“In spite of the many accommodations that I have made, it's still struggling in the House," Cirino said. "So I can only surmise that he must not personally believe that anything in Ohio higher ed needs reforming.”

The Ohio State University Board of Trustees issued a statement opposing it in May. Even with the elimination of the ban on faculty strikes, the bill is strongly opposed by faculty members and most student groups.

Republicans have been talking up concerns about "leftist ideology" on college campuses in the last few years. With recent protests over the Israel/Hamas war and other topics hitting universities lately, Cirino said he thinks the bill "has a stronger case now than it did in March when I introduced it."

SB 83 still bans most mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] training at universities and requires what’s called “intellectual diversity” on topics spelled out in the legislation: "climate policies; electoral politics; foreign policy; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; immigration policy; marriage; or abortion." The bill also prohibits universities from taking public positions on controversial topics, though they can lobby lawmakers on issues. It cuts the terms of university trustees from nine years to six years. And it includes a ban on financial partnerships with China, but that doesn’t include tuition from Chinese students.

Cirino said with the ban on faculty strikes dropped from the bill to get Republican support in the House, he thinks Stephens and his supporters are wrong about the lack of votes for it.

“If they're intransigent in their position on this, then we will have to play the long game and wait to do something later," Cirino said. "And I'll tell you what - if that has to happen, the bill is gonna look a lot different than it does right now. And most importantly, it will be absent the concessions that I have made.”

A major backer of Senate Bill 83 is Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who added it to the Senate's version of the budget to try to get it passed earlier this year. Huffman is running for the House next year and may challenge Stephens as speaker if they’re both elected, which could mean if the bill doesn't pass in this session, it could be taken up again in the next one.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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