Although lots of high-profile and controversial bills squeaked through the end of the Ohio legislature’s lame-duck session, others just as significant — including some sponsored by Dayton-area legislators — did not.
Most or all of those failed bills, though, are likely to reemerge when the 135th General Assembly convenes in January.
Trans sports ban and education overhaul
Adding one controversial idea to another led to failure for both.
Just before the General Assembly broke for the summer, the Ohio House passed a ban on transgender women competing in women’s sports at Ohio schools and colleges. State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, got the “Save Women’s Sports Act” added to another bill without going through the committee process. It only addresses athletes who transition male-to-female, not female-to-male, and could have required student athletes to submit to genital inspection.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said in June the Senate would probably take up the bill — but wanted it to have committee hearings. This time the legislation, Substitute House Bill 151, made it to the Senate floor, where another hotly debated bill was added to it.
That’s Senate Bill 178, which was otherwise stuck in a House committee. State Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, sponsored that bill. Senate Bill 178 would have taken practically all power away from the Ohio state board of education and state superintendent, instead creating a new cabinet-level department with a director appointed by the governor.
But the two-in-one bill was too much for the Senate to swallow; in the early hours of Dec. 15 it was defeated 46-41. President Huffman, however, said he expected one or both to be resubmitted early next year.
Despite vocal backing from Gov. Mike DeWine, a bill to increase penalties for repeat violators of gun possession stalled out at the last minute.
State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, introduced House Bill 383 in August 2021, but the measure remained mired in committee. The bill is aimed at people “under disability” — already legally barred from possessing a firearm — who are caught with a gun. It would have raised the severity of that crime, which is already a felony.
DeWine has voiced support for HB 383 several times. When asked if he would support any gun restrictions in addition to the several bills he has signed loosening gun laws, DeWine regularly blames “a small group of repeat violent offenders” for many of the state’s gun crimes.
A bill reviving some of DeWine’s “Strong Ohio” gun regulation proposals also died. State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, introduced Senate Bill 357 after the November election and it got several committee hearings. It included a “red flag” law restriction on gun buys by young people and increased penalties for “straw purchases” on behalf of someone who’s not legally allowed to own a gun, coupled with increased mental health funding.
DeWine made his “Strong Ohio” proposals following the August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, but those also stalled in the face of opposition from gun-rights groups.
Among the first to return next session may be a bill to expand medical marijuana, said Tim Johnson, safety and security specialist for Cannabis Safety First, which had heavy input on the now-dead version and lobbies for multiple cannabis bills.
“It’ll definitely be back,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping to make it a House bill this time, from the GOP side.”
In the 134th General Assembly state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, sponsored Senate Bill 261 to add to the conditions eligible for medical marijuana — including an open-ended “any other condition a recommending physician believes medical marijuana would help” — and expand the ways in which it can be taken, though without allowing it to be smoked. It would expand authorized growing space and increase the number of legal dispensaries. Huffman carried the bill that started Ohio’s medical marijuana program in 2015.
Senate Bill 261 passed the Ohio Senate in December 2021, but remained stuck in the House Government Oversight Committee despite five hearings.
The coming version may look a little different, including protections for medical marijuana patients from discrimination under drug laws, Johnson said.
“That would include things like fair housing, parental custodial rights, drug testing for THC,” he said.
Cannabis Safety First plans to work on other marijuana bills, Johnson said. That includes a renewed push for recreational use, described as “adult choice;” but proponents are concerned the state may demand an exorbitant tax rate, he said.
State Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, saw success this session in detailing crime victims’ rights under the “Marsy’s Law” amendment added to the Ohio constitution in 2017. But her bill to require state-regulated insurance plans, including Medicaid, to cover biomarker testing, never made it.
White and state Rep. Tom West, D-Canton, introduced HB 608 based on national model legislation.
Biomarkers are signs of disease or genetic mutation that can be spotted in blood or tissue. Tests have been developed to use biomarkers in cancer treatment, identifying treatments specifically effective for types of cancer.