An Ohio House committee OKs the contentious higher ed bill, despite House leader claiming little support

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio House committee cleared a contentious higher ed bill Wednesday that would eliminate nearly all diversity and inclusion training requirements in Ohio’s public colleges and universities and bar them from taking stances on “controversial topics,” despite House leadership claiming it doesn’t have the votes.

Protestors sit in the Ohio Senate with tape over their mouths
A group of demonstrators wear black tape over their mouths to protest Senate Bill 83, the sweeping higher education bill that supporters say will address conservatives’ concerns about a lack of intellectual diversity in classrooms but opponents say will quash free speech on campus. [Karen Kasler | Statehouse News Bureau]
Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens told reporters last week that the measure didn’t have enough support in the GOP-dominated House and that he had no intentions of pushing it to a floor vote.

Even so, the House Higher Education Committee voted out the legislation, which is known to be a high priority for Senate President Matt Huffman. The Republican is expected to run for a seat in the House once his time in the Senate ends in 2025 because of term limits, and if elected, Huffman is poised to challenge Stephens for the speaker position.

The measure previously passed in the Senate with a majority Republican vote, although three GOP members broke away from their party to join Democrats in voting against it.

A spokesperson for Stephens did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Committee Chair Rep. Tom Young, a Dayton-area Republican, told reporters Wednesday that the committee vote is the first step in seeing whether or not Stephens’ words hold weight.

“I think the votes are there,” he said, but added that they’ll have to wait and see.

Supporters of the measure have called it necessary to rid higher ed of bias, promote “intellectual diversity” and help protect conservative speech on campuses. It comes alongside other Republican-led states targeting diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education this year.

But opponents, including university students and faculty, as well as the 61,000-student Ohio State University, have spoken out against the bill. Many have argued the legislation encourages censorship and allows the Legislature to micromanage higher education — particularly when it comes to defining subjective terms like “bias,” “intellectual diversity” and “controversial matters.”

Ranking Democratic committee member Rep. Joseph Miller slammed the measure after Wednesday’s vote, calling the legislation anti-education and anti-union.

“It attacks the very institution that is formed in Ohio to provide Ohioans with an opportunity to better their lives by educating themselves for the next stage of life as an adult,” Miller said.


Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.