Ohio Parents Bill of Rights, bathroom bills moving through statehouse

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Two hot-button bills at the Ohio Statehouse may see more movement within the next few weeks or months. Each of the bills has brought out more than 100 opponents, and both have to do with schools, but in different ways.

House Bill 8: “Parents’ Bill of Rights”

House Bill 8, or the Parents Bill of Rights, was introduced by Reps. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron). It passed the House last summer, with unanimous Republican support.

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“We want to make sure parents are still involved with the classrooms with their kids, that they’re working with their teachers to educate the children, that they’re not being cut out of that process,” Swearingen said.

The bill was first introduced last general assembly but did not pass, likely due to timing.

The current version would allow parents to opt their student out of certain sexuality-related content; opponents worry it would become anti-LGBTQ+.

“To have a parent be engaged, understating and involved in that process, I think that’s a good thing and I don’t think that’s anti-anything, quite honestly,” Swearingen said.

The bill would prohibit school personnel from encouraging a student to withhold information from a parent. An amendment is being considered that would make exceptions for instances when that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Language that is being considered would also clarify what schools should do in abusive situations.

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“We vetted this issue really thoroughly in the House,” Swearingen said. “Obviously if a child is being abused in the home, we want to make sure that is taken care of and take that very, very seriously.”

The bill is currently in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware). Brenner said they are making sure the bill is “workable.”

“We don’t want to create an unfunded mandate on school systems that will create a lot of extra problems, but we do want to make sure parents, in their bill of rights, they know what’s going on with kids in schools,” Brenner said.

Swearingen said the amendments that are being considered right now include some “clarifying language” related to the sexuality content section of the bill and clarifying abuse-type situations. But Swearingen said it is not an overhaul of the legislation.

“I didn’t see it that way, I think it needs a little more work,” he said. “That’s just part of the legislative process. I have a few comments that I will be sending [Brenner’s] way and hopefully, we will keep the bill rolling to the governor’s desk.”

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Brenner said whether the amendments are taken up in full is “not necessarily” a non-starter.

“It’s a negotiation,” he said. “Generally, I think if we voted on it tomorrow, it would pass out of committee.”

Brenner said the vote will likely come late this month or next month. Once the bill is favorably reported out of committee, the Senate will need to take it up for a floor vote. If the Senate does pass the bill, it then would go to the House floor for a concurrence vote, then to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk for signature.

“I think the bill could potentially be on the Senate floor later this month or May,” Brenner said.

“I think that’s a good goal,” Swearingen said. “It gives teachers and schools the summer to learn about the new bill, the new law, and how to implement it.”

House Bill 183: “Bathroom Bill”

House Bill 183, or the Bathroom Bill, was introduced last May by Reps. Beth Lear (R-Galena) and Adam Bird (R-New Richmond).

The bill would require K-12 public schools, chartered nonpublic schools, and institutions of higher education to designate specified restrooms for students of the male or female biological sex.

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“I don’t view this as controversial,” Bird said. “In fact, I think parents of all political backgrounds want their children to be safe in the restroom.”

This bill has also drawn out more than 100 opponents to the Statehouse, who said it is discriminatory against transgender students and addresses a problem that does not truly exist. But Bird said the legislation has been widely requested and is only about safety; he said several steps have been taken to ensure the bill’s feasibility.

“We met with Ohio State, we met with IUC, and we met with colleges and universities and interests and there were some issues in there that I thought we listened, and we worked on,” Bird said.

Bird said many of the major issues that Republicans on the committee had were also addressed in its latest revamp.

“It’s teed up and ready for a vote out of committee,” Bird said. “We are ready to roll. I think we need to get it moving and I think we need to get it moving so it has time to go over to the Senate.”

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Chair of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Tom Young (R-Washington Township), expects a committee vote on April 10.

“Unless something drastic happens,” he said.

If the committee does favorably report it, it would then go to the House floor.

Young said any delays in the past have been a result of due diligence, not an overarching opposition from Republican members.

“I think rushing things through is not really always the best solution,” Young said.

There are ten Republican members on the House Higher Education Committee, and Bird said he thinks they will have their support. Regardless, only eight Republicans need to vote for its favorable report to be sent to the House floor.

“I am confident that we have the votes,” he said. “I don’t know if we will get all ten Republicans, but I think we will get at least eight.”

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“Do we have all ten votes? You hope that is the case,” Young said. “But you just never know until all ten vote.”

Bird said he thinks he will have “almost all” support of the caucus on a House floor vote. If it does pass the House, it will then go to a Senate committee for additional hearings before a Senate floor vote.

“I am very upbeat and enthusiastic of its chances,” Bird said. “I hope it gets done soon to be implemented at the start of the school year.”

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet next week. If either of these bills does not pass by the end of the year, they will have to be reintroduced next year, and re-start the committee hearing process, for another consideration.

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