Guns, school funding, gay rights: The topics lawmakers keep debating year after year

Revamping school funding, regulating vicious dogs, legalizing concealed weapons without training or permits, banning LGBT discrimination — these disparate topics are among the bills Ohio lawmakers have repeatedly tried and failed to pass year after year.

Some advocates never give up hope that this will be the time they’ll get a breakthrough.

“It remains the single top priority for the Buckeye Firearms Association. I can tell you there will be a ‘constitutional’ carry bill this year,” association lobbyist Rob Sexton said.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, said bills to allow Ohioans to carry concealed weapons without permits or training mandates have been introduced nearly every legislative session since 1995. The value in introducing such bills is to strive for the ideal but then settle for incremental improvements to gun laws, he said.

The retread bills tend to fall into three categories: hot button social issues that address abortion, guns, the death penalty or gay rights; complex policies such as school funding reform or fixing the state unemployment compensation fund; and a hodge podge of ideas such as strengthening vicious dog laws or legalizing backyard fireworks.

In February 2014, two neighborhood dogs fatally attacked Klonda Richey, leaving her to die on her Dayton front yard and prompting state lawmakers to call for changes in Ohio’s vicious dog laws.

Since then, six state lawmakers have taken up the cause. All six have failed. State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said he is once again redrafting legislation to reform the dog laws.

Although bills on these and other topics have repeatedly failed to clear all legislative hurdles, perseverance pays off sometimes.

After years of battle, anti-abortion groups got a heartbeat abortion ban law and pro-gun advocates got a “Stand Your Ground” law when Gov. Mike DeWine signed each bill.

State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, has been a champion for two bills — repealing the death penalty and passing the Fairness Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — for her entire legislative career. This new legislative session, Antonio is sponsoring the bills, yet again.

Antonio said public opinion on both topics continues to evolve and she continues to discuss the bills with her colleagues, hoping to win over support.

Credit: Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Credit: Andrew Welsh-Huggins

“It’s the right thing to do and it affects the lives of people. The death penalty, I think sets the whole road map for the state of Ohio, whether or not we have that on the books, and the same could be said for the Fairness Act,” Antonio said. “I think it’s worth the long haul and the long fight, absolutely.”

She added, “I’ve been told my whole life there are things I can’t do. I refuse to accept that.”

Ohio lawmakers often wrestle with the same issues year after year. Here is a sampling:

Ohio Fairness Act: Senate Bill 119, introduced every session since 2003, would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment or public places based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Death Penalty Repeal: Senate Bill 103 would end the death penalty in Ohio. Repeal bills have been introduced for more than 15 years. Ohio’s capital punishment law has been on the books since 1981.

School Funding Reform: House Bill 1 aims to solve problems that have lingered for 20-plus years since the state school funding formula was ruled unconstitutional.

Sports Betting: Two bills failed to clear the legislature last session. A special Senate committee is now hearing testimony on sports betting and e-bingo.

Backyard Fireworks: House Bill 172 and Senate Bill 113 would legalize the use of consumer-grade fireworks on private property. Local governments could place restrictions on hours and days. Attempts to revamp Ohio’s fireworks laws stretch back more than 20 years.

Concealed Weapons: Ohio adopted its concealed weapons permit law in 2004. Since then, lawmakers have reduced training requirements and expanded places CCW permitholders may carry their weapons. A bill is expected to again be introduced that would allow adults to carry concealed firearms without meeting training requirements or obtaining permits.

Unemployment Compensation Fund: Despite recommendations going back to 2006 to stabilize the fund, the legislature has yet to take action. In 2009, Ohio started borrowing to keep the fund solvent, racking up a $2.6 billion debt. In 2020, the fund went broke again, forcing Ohio to borrow $1.45 billion so far. Lawmakers are looking for ways to fix the rampant problem of unemployment fraud. But structural changes to stabilize the fund are still under discussion.

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