2023 year in review: Higher ed plan, marijuana changes among Ohio bills that did not pass

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — When the mid-term General Assembly went home for the holidays, lawmakers left behind hundreds of bills to deal with in the new year: in 2023, more than 360 bills were introduced in the Ohio House alone, and the Ohio Senate loosely logged another 200.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed just over a dozen bills, meaning hundreds of proposals are now sitting in legislative purgatory.

Higher education bill stalled for months

Looming large is a contentious bill addressing conservatives’ concerns about higher education in Ohio. Senate Bill 83 bans most mandatory diversity training in public colleges, requires the protection and promotion of so-called “intellectual diversity,” and slashes university trustee terms.

It sat on the House side for months after passing the Senate in May. In early December, it eked out of a committee 8-to-7. Speaker Jason Stephens has said it doesn’t yet have the votes to clear the full Ohio House.

“We’ve got 99 voices in this House, and we want to hear from a lot of different folks to get that, and you have to have 50 voices singing the same song or it doesn’t matter,” Stephens told reporters in December following the final house session.

But even if SB 83 doesn’t make it to the governor’s desk next year, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said the idea behind it isn’t going anywhere.

“We will wait for another propitious time to bring this forward,” Cirino said. “But now that it’s out of the committee, it’s at least on the agenda.”

Chambers disagree over cannabis changes

In the final two months of the year, lawmakers failed to find common ground on changes to the state’s new recreational marijuana laws—meaning some of Issue 2, which voters ratified by 57% in November, went into effect as is.

About six hours before that effective date, a bill to change Issue 2 cleared the Senate 28-2. All but one Senate Democrat ultimately got behind the changes, including Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).

“Democrats are determined and very appreciative that our Republican colleagues have picked up the points that were so important to us and are now important to them as well,” Antonio told reporters prior to the vote on the senate floor.

That same evening, Gov. Mike DeWine urged the House to move the package of proposed changes forward.

But weeks later, the chamber hadn’t taken much action on the issue, aside from holding committee hearings on their own version. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) says he’s worried negotiations could drag into mid-2024.

“There has to be some things in the bill that the house would agree to. Something,” Huffman said. “And if we knew what the house wanted, there’s probably something that they want that we would agree to and the governor would agree to. We just don’t know what that is.”

Another push to abolish death penalty

Lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties took another crack at getting rid of the death penalty in 2023. Over the last decade, repealing the practice has been introduced and reintroduced, but Republican legislators have slowly joined Democratic colleagues on the issue.

That growing contingency includes once-proponent Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland). “To me, this is a moral issue. If we profess to be pro-life, how can we justify ending a life, no matter the reason?” Schmidt said.

Hearings were held in May, October, and November, but neither the house or senate bill made it out of committee.

Other bills in limbo

In their last session, House and Senate Republicans sent a bill to DeWine that bars trans minors from accessing gender-affirming care and participating in athletics. But other GOP-backed legislation that opponents say also target the state’s LGBTQ population didn’t clear the same hurdles.

Among them are a bill that would limit what LGBTQ content can be taught in public schools; one that would require students use the bathroom of their assigned sex at birth rather than their gender identity; and one that largely bans drag performances in public.

Election-related proposals to move Ohio’s primaries from March to May, close them, and prohibit ranked choice voting didn’t get much traction. And some gun bills, including one to make Ohio a so-called Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ state, didn’t see either chamber’s floor.

Lawmakers took a historic vote on a bill that closes a loophole in marital rape laws.

“Single or married, we should have a criminal justice system that treats people equally,” Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) said during floor testimony. “We should have a criminal justice system that empowers survivors to seek justice, and we should have a criminal justice system that believes people when they say they have been wronged.”

Ohio is one of only 11 states where spousal rape is still treated differently in the legal system, according to Miranda. Only one GOP lawmaker in the house voted against House Bill 161, but it’s unclear whether the senate will take action on it.

Since the legislature runs on two-year terms, none of the other bills introduced this year are dead, either—just in limbo until at least early January when lawmakers return from their recess.