Ohio lawmakers rush to finish bills on the death penalty, fireworks, education reforms and more. Here’s what they’ve approved so far

People with serious mental illnesses at the time they commit a heinous crime would not be eligible for the death penalty, under a bill that cleared the Ohio General Assembly on Thursday.

The House agreed to Senate changes in the bill, sending the legislation to Gov. Mike DeWine for consideration.

The change is one of more than 50 reforms recommended by a task force in 2014 that examined Ohio’s capital punishment system.

State representatives and senators met in marathon sessions Thursday, attempting to wrap up all legislative business and close out the two-year General Assembly. Bills that haven’t received final approval by both chambers will die and need to be reintroduced in the next session, which begins in January.

The Senate also amended and voted 30-1 on House Bill 1, a criminal justice reform bill that expands chances for drug offenders to seek treatment in lieu of a conviction. It also calls for making it easier and faster for criminal records to be sealed for low-level felony offenses and misdemeanors.

Senators had pushed for a broader drug sentencing reform bill but the House declined to send Senate Bill 3 to a floor vote.

Legislators were scheduled to take action Thursday on legislation addressing wide ranging issues such as backyard fireworks, driver license reinstatement fees, medication-induced abortions and a $2.1 billion capital spending plan that includes money for schools, prisons, parks, community projects and more.

Through Thursday night, action was taken on a handful of bills.

Abortions: The House voted 54-30 to approve Senate Bill 260, prohibiting doctors from providing abortion-inducting drugs to a woman unless the physician is physically present when the medication is first taken. Violations could lead to felony convictions and/or medical license suspensions.

Drivers License Changes: Drivers seeking to get their licenses reinstated but who are unable to pay the fees could be given the option of completing community service instead. Nearly 1 million Ohioans have suspended driver’s licenses. Advocates for the bill say it’ll help low-income people avoid the “BMV cycle of death” where they lose a license, can’t pay the fees, either drive unlicensed and face more fines or lose the ability to get to work or school. The bill also gives BMV registrars leeway to offer more services electronically during the pandemic and accept payment by debit or credit card. Senate Bill 68 passed the House on a 83-0 vote.

Juvenile Sentencing: Offenders younger than 18 could no longer be sentenced to life without parole and would be given the opportunity for parole after 18 or 25 years in prison. Prisoners who committed their offenses before age 18 would automatically be resentenced. Senate Bill 256 passed the House 75-9, with opponents including local Republicans Reps. Niraj Antani, Jim Butler, Jena Powell and Paul Zeltwanger.

Firearms policy:Lawmakers approved a so-called “Stand Your Ground” measure that removes the duty to retreat from danger in public spaces before using deadly force in self-defense.

Fireworks: Senators voted 25-7 in favor of House Bill 253. This legislation would allow local governments to permit the discharge of backyard fireworks on private property on July 3, 4 or 5.

Education Policy: The Senate passed House Bill 409 in a 32-0 vote, which would prohibit the state from giving schools report card ratings for 2020-21, free schools from holding back third-graders for not passing the state reading test this year, and allow schools to hire substitute teachers without a Bachelor’s degree for this year only. Another bill calls for optional training on food allergy recognition in K-12 schools, and yet another bill creates a screening program for children with dyslexia.

Theft in Office: Public officials who steal more than $150,000 in goods or services while in office would face stiffer penalties and may have to pay the cost of auditing. It would also make restitution costs not subject to discharge by a bankruptcy filing. The final version of the bill cleared the Senate 32-0 and the House 88-0 and now heads to DeWine for consideration.

Animals: One bill would establish requirements for reporting suspected abuse of dogs, cats or other companion animals. Another bill would set up a program for paying off student debt for veterinarians who volunteer their vet services to nonprofit organizations.

The Senate is scheduled to meet again Friday.

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