COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — After Republicans retained their stronghold on Ohio’s state legislature Tuesday, House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz cautioned his Democratic colleagues: “It’s time to lower your expectations.”
Ohio voters kept intact the GOP’s supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, setting the party up to dominate the cycle of legislation that hits the Statehouse floor. As legislators convene for lame duck – the period between Election Day and the start of January’s new legislative session – Republicans are gearing up to tackle a busy to-do list.
“I think we’re going to be firmly in control of the agenda, both in lame duck and going forward,” said Seitz (R-Cincinnati). “But that doesn’t mean we cannot work with our Democratic friends.”
House Minority Leader Allison Russo said she’s hopeful that a few Democratic-backed bills will see the finish line before the session ends.
“Lame duck is something that Ohioans should watch very closely because things move very quickly during lame duck,” said Russo (D-Upper Arlington). “It’s also where some of, frankly, the most damaging pieces of legislation happen, and they’re passed at the last minute in the dark of the night.”
With lawmakers poised to reconvene Wednesday, Seitz offered a piece of advice to his Democratic counterparts: Prioritizing legislation that lacks a Republican co-sponsor is a lost cause.
“Are they interested in getting something done?” he asked. “Or are they interested in having press conferences and pushing an agenda that is not going to pass without Republican support?”
Abortion, women’s health
The downfall of Roe v. Wade in June led an Ohio judge to lift an injunction against the state’s six-week abortion ban, which has since been blocked by another judge pending a legal challenge. A bill before lawmakers would take Ohio’s abortion restrictions a step further.
The Republican-backed Human Life Protection Act, House Bill 598 and its counterpart Senate Bill 123, would outlaw all abortions and charge those who perform them with a fourth-degree felony.
Seitz, however, said he doesn’t see a path for further abortion restrictions by year’s end. Even attempting to move the needle past the six-week ban is “unduly contentious.”
“As long as there is a court case that has enjoined the heartbeat bill, it would be kind of a mistake to try to push the envelope any further,” Seitz said. “We have to let that court case run its course.”
Russo said Democrats will prioritize a family-first agenda aimed at making Ohio a more feasible place to raise a family.
“The governor [Mike DeWine] wants to do similar things, which I’m delighted to hear but again, you know, the proof is in the pudding here. Is there going to be money and resources dedicated to these issues? And that remains to be seen,” Russo said.
Whether it be limiting educators’ ability to teach sexuality- and gender-related topics or curtailing transgender students’ participation in sports, a series of bills targeting LGBTQ+ rights stirred controversy in the Statehouse this year.
Republican lawmakers introduced bills that would bar LGBTQ+ youth from receiving gender-affirming care (House Bill 454), prohibit the instruction of critical race theory (House Bill 327), limit the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity (House Bill 616), and ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports (tucked inside House Bill 151).
Democrats, including Russo, opposed each one.
“Republicans seem to be very distracted on the cultural war issues and these very controversial pieces of legislation rather than on the issues that, at the end of the day, really impact Ohioans’ lives and their ability to thrive in their communities,” Russo said.
Seitz, however, said many GOP lawmakers and Ohio residents alike are rightfully concerned about the fairness of youth sports and what he called “indoctrination” of students in schools.
“But all of those issues are very complicated, and it would not surprise me if many of those issues will be left to be resurrected and dealt with next year,” Seitz said.
State Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) broke from his party in August by introducing Senate Bill 357, designed to roll back access to firearms and increase penalties for illegal gun ownership.
But Russo said Republicans have “zero interest in gun safety,” pointing to dozens of Democratic-sponsored gun control bills that fell on deaf ears.
“We’ve seen Republicans and the governor go in the complete opposite (direction), and ‘stand your ground’ legislation that they passed, arming teachers in classrooms, so I am not very optimistic that this is going to go anywhere at this General Assembly,” Russo said.
While it remains to be seen whether GOP lawmakers will rally around Dolan’s bill, Seitz said another Republican-sponsored bill is at the top of his list. Backed by DeWine for three years now, Seitz said House Bill 383 would further penalize illegal gun ownership.
“If people aren’t allowed to have a gun, they’re not allowed to have a gun, and we need to underscore the importance of obeying the law in that regard,” he said.