Police reform, expulsion vote, school funding: What happened at the Statehouse in 2021

·7 min read
Ohio lawmakers who work in the Statehouse get two years to pass their bills through the General Assembly, and December 2021 marks the halfway point in the legislative session.
Ohio lawmakers who work in the Statehouse get two years to pass their bills through the General Assembly, and December 2021 marks the halfway point in the legislative session.

Ohioans might be able to bet on the Bengals and Browns next fall, the bill at the center of Ohio's largest public corruption scandal was mostly dismantled and schools have a new funding formula.

But a bill to reform local police departments hasn't materialized, the debate over how we teach about racism is still going and Republicans can't agree on whether to bar private businesses from requiring vaccinations.

And that's just the first year.

Ohio's lawmakers get two years to pass their bills through the General Assembly, and December 2021 marks the halfway point in the legislative session.

Here's what Ohio's 134th General Assembly did and did not accomplish in the first year of its two-year session:

Abortion in Ohio

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill in December that placed new restrictions on surgical abortions providers. One new rule makes failing to submit paperwork after certain abortions a third-degree felony.

A second rule limited the kinds of doctors who can contract with surgical centers – potentially forcing the closure of two southwest Ohio clinics.

Another bill that hasn't been passed yet is a trigger law that would ban abortions in Ohio the moment Roe v. Wade was overturned. Senate Bill 123 has had two committee hearings.

Second Amendment legislation

After the deadly mass shooting in downtown Dayton, DeWine promised he would "do something." But in the two years since, the legislature has only moved on bills that would make it easier to carry a weapon.

Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chargin Falls, introduced DeWine's package of gun reforms in the last general assembly, but he didn't bring it back in 2021. Dolan is a candidate in the 2022 GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Instead, the Ohio House and Senate have each passed their version of constitutional carry. A law that would let anyone 21 or older carry a concealed firearm without any training or safety classes.

Republicans say all gun owners need safety training, but it's not a constitutional requirement.

Democratic Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, introduced four gun control bills this year, but none of them have had hearings.

Senate Bill 73 would mandate universal background checks. Senate Bill 74 would raise the age to own a firearm to 21. Senate Bill 76 would let local governments set their own gun laws. And Senate Bill 77 would ban bump stocks.

Police reform

Republican Reps. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, and Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, stood on the floor of the House just weeks after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and promised they would work together on a bill to change how local police departments operated.

The pair, who both have a background in law enforcement, told reporters they wanted to create a professional licensing board, a statewide database for use of force reports and find a way to pay for additional training.

But more than a year and a half later, their legislation has yet to get off the ground.

Democrats have introduced a handful of bills aimed at changing how police departments operate, but they aren't moving either.

House Bill 11, introduced in February, would create a database of office conduct that could be used during the hiring process. It hasn't received a hearing.

Medical marijuana

A revamp of Ohio's medical marijuana system passed the Ohio Senate in December. Senate Bill 261 would increase the number of dispensary licenses and the number of legal conditions.

Recreational cannabis might also end up on the legislative agenda in 2022.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted more than 200,0000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office in December. If enough of them are valid, lawmakers will have four months to pass a law legalizing recreational marijuana.

If they don't, the issue could go to voters in November.

Funding for public schools

Ohio lawmakers rewrote the formula for funding public schools when they passed the state budget in June.

Some of the major changes included:

  • Creating individualized base amounts (cost to educate the average kid) instead of a single, statewide average.

  • Increasing the overall amount spent on K-12 education by $1.8 billion over six years.

  • Changing how the state calculates what a district can afford to pay (state share of instruction).

School choice (school vouchers)

The state budget was also beneficial for supporters of the state's two main voucher programs known as EdChoice scholarships.

The amounts of annual scholarships increased, and the caps on how many students can get them were lifted.

School choice advocates also introduced a major piece of legislation in 2021. The backpack bill (House Bill 290) would essentially make all Ohio children eligible for school vouchers.

Householder and House Bill 6

The Ohio House expelled former Speaker Larry Householder in June -- nearly one year after his shocking arrest for an alleged role in the largest public bribery scandal in state history.

The short story is House Bill 6 was a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants along Lake Erie. Federal prosecutors claim the former speaker and four other men accepted nearly $61 million in bribes from Akron-based FirstEnergy in exchange for the legislation.

Householder maintains his innocence, but two of the other men signed guilty pleas. A trial is expected in 2022.

But what about the bailout? Lawmakers repealed it in March 2021 but several other parts of the bill remain in place including subsidies for two coal-powered plants.

COVID-19 legislation

Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate overrode DeWine's veto in March, giving themselves the power to rescind his statewide health orders and end his states of emergency.

Republicans such as bill sponsor Rob McColley, a senator from Napoleon, called it a much-needed correction to Ohio's separation of powers.

But Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, called the bill an overreaction to “hurt feelings” that could endanger the lives of Ohioans in the future.

Sports betting

Just before lawmakers left for their holiday breaks, they passed a bill to lgalize sports betting in Ohio.

But don't start looking to bet on the Buckeyes just yet. The Ohio Casino Control Commission has until January 1, 2023 to come up with the rules for how the new industry will operate.

Critical race theory

Republicans in the Ohio House introduced two bills spelling out how "divisive concepts" such as slavery and racism should be taught in the classroom.

House Bills 322 and 327 had several, long and contentious committee hearings.

Neither made it to the floor for a vote, and their paths seem uncertain in the Ohio Senate. President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, told reporters that the best people to deal with the issue were the State Board of Education and local school districts.

The issue did have real consequences for two appointed members of the State Board of Education though.

DeWine asked board president Laura Kohler and board member Eric Poklar to resign after they voted against repealing an anti-racist resolution the board passed in July 2020.

Tax cuts

When lawmakers passed the state budget in June, they included a 3% income tax cut.

They also raised the minimum amount someone can earn before being taxed to $25,000 and eliminated the top income tax bracket for wealthy residents.

All totaled, the two-year budget's tax cuts were $1.64 billion.

Broadband internet

After years of talking about the need for high-speed internet, Ohio finally dedicated a significant amount of money to the project.

DeWine's office created a broadband grant program and funded it with a $250 million "down payment."

It's also looking like the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress could bring more than $1 billion in support for Ohio broadband projects. And that's on top of the money allocated under the American Rescue Plan.

Anna Staver is a reporter with the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. It serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Guns, school funding, abortion: What the Ohio legislature did in 2021