COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A group of Ohio lawmakers is renewing a push to declare racism a statewide public health crisis.

Monday, members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus were sworn into their positions during a virtual ceremony. The new leadership took turns taking an oath administered by Justice Melody Stewart of the Ohio Supreme Court. Following the ceremony, the group laid out its priorities for the 134th General Assembly.

“We need all legislators on deck to eradicate this pandemic and the social ills that plague our community,” said newly appointed OLBC President Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton).

Many of the leaders elaborated on issues hitting communities of color especially hard, pointing to high rates of COVID-19 infection, a growing infant mortality rate and economic hardship.

“We need to get this House to recognize that racism is a health crisis,” said OLBC Second Vice-President Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cleveland), referring to a resolution introduced in the previous session to declare racism as a public health crisis.

Ingram and Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) explained plans to revisit the resolution in the upcoming legislative session.

Craig said, “It’s no secret, this issue, the systemic racism and what has occurred here in the city of Columbus.”

During December 2020, Craig’s home district experienced two fatal shootings of Black men by law enforcement. Casey Goodson Jr. was killed by a Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy on December 4th. On December 22nd, a Columbus Police officer shot and killed Andre’ Hill. Both deaths sparked outrage and demands for racial justice and police reform.

At the state level, the OLBC pledged to promote equality.

“We need both black and white legislators to come together and end racism and sexism and ageism and all of the ‘isms’ for future generations,” said West.

OLBC leaders also said repealing House Bill 6 is a top priority. The legislation is at the center of an alleged $60 million bribery scandal, in which former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was charged.