Hundreds of bills left on table as Ohio legislative session prepares to close

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

The 132nd General Assembly of the Ohio Legislature has been a busy one with 1,142 bills introduced in both the House and Senate combined.

Of those 1,142, 157 became law as of Christmas Day. There are still a few days left before the General Assembly ends on December 31st.

Thursday, lawmakers aim to take up veto overrides on several bills Gov. John Kasich refused to sign, such as the “heartbeat” abortion bill

Hundreds of other bills never made it to the governor’s desk, including some that developed from tragedy here in Ohio.

The Reagan Tokes Act, a four-pronged approach at addressing sentencing reform and post-release monitoring of violent offenders, was portioned out into two bills in the Senate, while the entire four-part bill held fast in the House.

Reagan Tokes was an Ohio State University student who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Feb. 2017. 

In the Senate version, the sentencing reforms were placed in one bill, while the post release content was put into another. Only the sentencing reform bill made it to Kasich’s desk and he signed it. The rest came up short and require more work, according to lawmakers.

Agreements to continue work on the remaining portions of the Reagan Tokes Act have been made for the next General Assembly.

Another bill introduced in the aftermath of tragedy is Tyler’s Law, and its level of support at the Statehouse remains in question.

The bill was introduced this spring, nine months after the death of 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell at the Ohio State Fair in July 2017. Jarrell died when the amusement ride he was on, the Fireball, broke, killing him and seriously injuring seven others.

Timing could not have been worse for the bill as it was introduced in the middle of a tumultuous time at the legislature. Former Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger had resigned while under investigation by the FBI and the resulting power vacuum created a struggle between two factions within the Republican Caucus.

For weeks, hearings for Tyler’s Law were put on hold by then-Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Brian Hill. At the time, Hill claimed he wanted to wait to see who the next Speaker of the House would be before making any decisions on when it would get hearings.

After Speaker of the House Ryan Smith took over, the bill finally received a hearing.
It would be the only hearing the bill would get.

Hill has since been tapped to fill a vacant seat in the State Senate and will no longer be the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

It remains to be seen if the bill will be able to muster enough support in the next General Assembly to get rolling. One of the bill’s bi-partisan sponsors, Rep. Jim Hughes, will not be returning to the Statehouse next year.

Other bills that failed to cross the finish line during the two-year General Assembly include an overhaul of unemployment compensation, an anti-discrimination bill that picked up support from the Chamber of Commerce for the first time in a decade, and a number of Democrat sponsored bills, including one that calls for medical providers to undergo cultural competency programs.

State Senator Charleta Tavares is term-limited and is leaving the Statehouse after years of service.
She has noticed the increase in the introduction of bills and says there are two main reasons for this.

“In some cases it’s because we have inexperienced legislators who don’t understand that some of these issues can be addressed without legislation,” said Tavares. “In other cases, I believe, it’s because we are more of a full-time legislature than was intended, so people feel like they have to make work.”

When it comes to bills that deal with a tragedy and the reasons behind how it happened, Tavares believes the legislature should be looking into issues of safety, but not everything needs to be solved with a bill.

“In some cases, we need to look at the larger picture, not just that particular incident, and in fact our judges are saying the same thing,” said Tavares. “Maybe it’s whomever is over your State Fair, in this case the State Fair Commission; maybe it’s their passing some solid rules on who can and cannot operate, how you operate equipment–we don’t always have to pass a bill.”

Any bill that did not pass this General Assembly can be re-submitted next year when the next general assembly begins, but little will have changed to shift the balance of power at the Statehouse.

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