Ohio legislators pass ‘born alive,’ sports betting, other major bills

The Ohio Statehouse. FILE

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The Ohio Statehouse. FILE

The Ohio General Assembly, hurrying to wrap up its fall session, approved several major bills Wednesday, including criminalizing failure to provide life-saving measures to infants born after an attempted abortion and legalizing sports betting.

That included House passage of the “born alive” abortion bill, Senate Bill 157, sponsored by state Sens. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, and Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. It passed the Senate in October and now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine.

Republicans shot down several Democratic attempts to soften the bill’s penalties, including a try at removing an amendment added by state Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. That amendment says abortion clinics operating under a variance from state law cannot have emergency service agreements with any doctor who is connected to a public institution.

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Only two of the state’s six abortion clinics operate under such variances: the ones in Kettering and Cincinnati.

Opponents of the bill have said it could close the Kettering clinic. State Rep. Allison Russo, D-Columbus, said the amendment’s wording of “public institution” is so vague it would result in a de facto abortion ban in southwest Ohio.

Representatives of Women’s Med Center in Kettering and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment. Physicians affiliated with the medical school have signed on as back-up doctors as part of the clinic’s variance.

Ohio Right to Life praised the bill’s passage.

“No baby in Ohio, regardless of the circumstances surrounding his or her birth, should be left alone to die. This vital anti-infanticide legislation will ensure that a baby who survives a botched abortion receives life-saving care,” the organization said in a statement.

Sports betting

The House and Senate both accepted a conference committee’s report on House Bill 29, which legalizes sports betting in Ohio. Originally a bill to expand issuance of veterans’ ID cards, the long-running issue of sports betting was added by amendment.

The final bill, unanimously accepted by a conference committee Wednesday, is the result of three years’ work and includes some 50 amendments, said state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati.

The bill would allow 25 Class A licenses allowing online gaming, with preference given to Ohio’s professional sports teams and existing casinos, he said.

There would also be 42 Class B licenses for brick-and-mortar gambling locations, most likely at existing casinos, Seitz said.

The Casino Control Commission could grant Class C licenses, authorizing two gambling machines, for Ohio bars, restaurants and bowling alleys that hold alcohol licenses, he said.

The commission can begin accepting license applications Jan. 1, 2022, and can start issuing them April 1, 2022.

Funding distribution

The Senate approved House Bill 169, authorizing distribution of $4.18 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding to Ohio schools, health care workers, childcare providers and law enforcement agencies. Those include many previously announced grants; state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, said the deadline for disbursement of that money is the end of 2021 or early 2022.

More than half of the money will go to Ohio schools, primarily to combat learning loss from COVID-related disruption of school sessions, he said.

Grants for childcare will take $659 million of the money, enabling more parents to return to work, Dolan said.

The House passed the bill in April, so it also goes to DeWine for his signature.

Telehealth

Sponsored by state Reps. Adam Holmes, R-Nashport, and Mark Fraizer, R-Newark, it allows psychologists, speech and hearing therapists, physical therapists, counselors and social workers, dietitians, optometrists, chiropractors and several other health care specialties to provide services by telehealth. It would also require insurance, public or private, to cover those services.

The bill passed the House in April. Use of telehealth services expanded greatly during COVID-19 lockdowns. House Bill 122 makes authorization for those services permanent.

The American Cancer Society Action Cancer Network praised the bill’s passage.

“On behalf of the 72,000 Ohioans who will be diagnosed with cancer this year, ACS CAN proudly supported HB 122,” the group’s Government Relations Director Leo Almeida said in a news release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed more significant burdens on cancer patients and their providers, but it has also revealed the critical role telemedicine can play in cancer care. Telehealth provides cancer patients and survivors with a convenient means of accessing some cancer care and primary care — a particularly important option for individuals in rural areas of the country and the immunocompromised.”

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