COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For the past two weeks, the public outcry across the nation for politicians at the state and federal level to do something about guns and keeping our kids safe in schools has raised the awareness of what is and isn’t being done.
Here in Ohio, students have protested outside the Statehouse, people have picketed outside of U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s office, and democrats have submitted a number of bills trying to address the concerns being raised.
Some bills seek to strengthen schools’ ability to be a safe place for kids, such as State Senator Joe Schiavoni’s Red Flag bill he just introduced and a bill that establishes procedures for awarding school safety funds.
His colleagues State Senators Michael Skindell and Charleta Tavares have introduced a bill that would ban assault weapons.
Meanwhile State Senator Cecil Thomas is planning to introduce his own comprehensive bill that addresses several issues in a few days.
Some question if any of this will bear fruit.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they want to look at ways to make our schools safer, which could mean adding more funding to efforts they have taken since the Chardon High School Shooting in 2012.
Republican lawmakers say they would like to look at the mental health aspect of things.
They also point to bills that were introduced before the Florida killings, like a bill defining what a School Resource Officer is, and bills that address bullying.
The Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger even said he would be open to looking at the Red Flag bill.
But is the follow through there?
In October, a gunman opened fire on an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Calls for banning bump stocks like the kind that gunman used could be heard across the nation and in the halls of the Ohio Statehouse.
When asked today if Republicans would be open to banning high capacity magazines and bump stocks, Senate President Larry Obhof said, “If somebody is interested in coming in to talk to me about the issue, I am happy to hear them out and see what their perspective is.”
The question is whether this is a case of is he ready now, or if he truly did not know what legislation is being proposed in his own chamber.
Back in October, right after the Las Vegas massacre, Sen. Thomas introduced a bill that would ban bump stocks.
It sat in limbo for nearly 2 months.
Only after Thomas hand delivered a letter addressed to Obhof requesting it be assigned to a committee did it see any movement.
That letter was dated December 4, 2017.
The bill, which was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, to this day has not received a hearing.
When challenged on that Obhof shrugged and said, “You should take that up with Senator Thomas and tell him to reach out to the chairman of that committee and ask for a hearing.”
A number of Senators here at the statehouse tell me, that’s not how things work here.
They say, the chairman of the committee decides when bills get their hearings and those chairmen get their marching orders from the caucus leadership.
Because Republicans hold the majority, that would ultimately be Obhof.
NBC4 Statehouse Report Jason Aubry tried to talk to the Judiciary Committee Chairman Keven Bacon. He was unable to meet with Aubry due to prior scheduled meetings at his Statehouse office.
Those meetings were set to conclude around 4:15 in the afternoon. Having not heard from Senator Bacon, per his request for a phone call specifically to discuss this matter, Aubry visited his office at 5:30.
Everyone, including the Senator, had gone home for the day.
So, we still do not officially know why the bump stock bill hasn’t had a hearing despite being introduced more than 4 months ago.
To be fair, any number of things could have come up to distract or delay Bacon reaching out to us, but Democrats say it is because Republicans just don’t want to deal with the issue.
“How many times are we going to let this happen, I mean; how many times are you going to act like you’re all emotional about it for a week, but then brush it under the rug. It can’t happen anymore,” said Schiavoni.
Perhaps Governor Kasich agrees, at least on some level.
Recent comments Kasich made on a national cable program indicated that he would take action if the legislature did not and we have received word that an announcement from the administration is expected tomorrow.
Kasich has allegedly formed a working group with members from both sides of the issue.
No one can officially confirm the members of that group, but it appears that no current lawmakers are on it.
Obhof said today that he would be reviewing proposals from that team this evening; but also made it clear that, “nobody does things for the legislature.”
“That’s not the process that the founders set up,” said Obhof.
Further, nothing is preventing the GOP-led legislature from continuing to work on legislation to address the concerns Ohioans have.
However, as Schiavoni pointed out, while they say this is important to them there is nothing preventing them from moving on to something else entirely.
“We need to do [introduce bills] every single day until something gets done,” said Schiavoni. “If we don’t do something on guns by the time we go on break, people should be outraged.”
The legislature goes on its Spring break in just a few weeks.