As more than a hundred protestors chanted and demonstrated outside the Statehouse, the Ohio House held a voting session that concluded with some passionate comments about the killing of George Floyd and the bigger issues that’s raised.
Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) is the president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, and one of the two sponsors of a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis. Ohio would be the first state to pass such a resolution, though similar ones have been passed in cities.
Howse grew emotional as she asked her Republican colleagues to talk to the protestors and listen to them.
“This pain – some of you all will never understand it. But I am asking you to take a step back and have a conversation," Howse said through tears.
Republicans hold a 61-38 majority in the House. Eighteen Democrats make up the OLBC.
Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) also spoke, saying some legislators have asked him what to do and what to say about what's been happening. "The state is waiting for us to come together on this very moment to address this issue of race and race relations," he said.
Their comments were followed by Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg), thanking them for their remarks and saying he'd "begun that dialogue" with some protestors and had also met with faith leaders too. He also praised the Ohio Highway Patrol for talking with protestors as well.
And Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) concluded, saying "we're going to have partisan divides" but "we don't want that to establish us to not be able to have conversations". And he suggested lawmakers get together both in their offices and outside them when they're in Columbus for session so "we're not just hearing, but we're also listening."
After session, House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) told reporters he thinks there’s a desire to solve the problems that protestors are highlighting.
“The vast majority of the members in this chamber want to get those things done," Householder said. "Some of them, I think they want to get them done. I think they’re a little shy. They aren’t exactly sure how to approach it.”
But he did not commit to moving Howse's resolution, saying some things in it have been dealt with in this session or are pending in the Senate, including priority bills that he and other Republicans have said they've worked on with Democrats.
House Majority Leader Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) referenced those priority bills earlier in the week in a Twitter exchange that began with a tweet that "the Majority will not be bullied into passing resolutions that haven't received a hearing yet".
.@OHHouseDems claim their priority bills haven't seen the light of day. However our caucuses have worked together on the priorities @EmiliaSykesOH identified and the House has delivered. The Majority will not be bullied into passing resolutions that haven't received a hearing yet pic.twitter.com/eZksNzMndU
— Representative Bill Seitz (@CincySeitz) June 2, 2020
That got a response from Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron), who said: "we’re just asking you to declare #racismisapublichealthcrisis & join in solidarity with the Black Ohioans you represent."
No one is being a bully. We’re just asking you to declare #racismisapublichealthcrisis & join in solidarity with the Black Ohioans you represent. A statement of values if you will. The ball & the majority of members are in your court. What will you do with your influence & power? https://t.co/UtucoaJ7A6
— Emilia Sykes (@EmiliaSykesOH) June 2, 2020
While Howse said she's hopeful about the resolution's chances, one of her Republican colleagues criticized the proposal on Facebook. Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) has been critical of the state's response to COVID-19, and Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton in particular.
He posted a photo of the OLBC and wrote on June 2: "Given that the resolution aims to assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our entire community and the state of Ohio, one could surmise the Ohio Director of Health, Amy Acton, would oversee this effort as well, with potentially no legislative oversight."
In response to a comment to his post, Vitale wrote, "I am darker than MOST of the people in this picture."
When asked about that on "The Sound of Ideas" on WCPN/ideastream, Howse said, "That's real ignorance....our focus and energy has to be on people we can partner with." And she added, "He's not with us at this moment."