Lower license standards for beauty, hair pass Ohio legislature

Dec. 1—The Ohio Senate voted Wednesday to lower the standards for barber and cosmetology licenses. The bill passed the House in May. It will head to Gov. Mike DeWine's desk if the two chambers can agree on changes made in committee.

Substitute House Bill 542, sponsored by state Reps. Bill Roemer, R-Richfield, and Lisa Sobecki, D-Toledo, passed the Senate 24-6 after long debate.

State Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, said the bill combines the currently separate licenses for cosmetology and barber school, makes reciprocal licensing from other states easier, cuts the age for a barber's license from 18 to 16, and — as amended in committee — reduces the hours of training required for a license, among a long list of changes.

It cuts the requirement for cosmetologists from 1,500 hours to 1,000, and for barbers from 1,800 to 1,000, she said. Roegner said other states have reduced their required training to that level over the last few years.

Schools could still offer more than 1,000 hours of training, and employers could require more, she said.

Currently all license applicants have to go to the Columbus area for written and practical testing, but the bill would allow establishment of other testing sites by 2024, Roegner said.

Democrats called for more consideration, saying changes to the House-passed bill came too late for careful review by affected parties.

Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said the Senate amendments brought back many provisions that had been dropped in the House.

"I was all ready to support the bill until the amendments were brought in," he said.

Thomas said there are 80,000 barber and cosmetology licenses in Ohio, mostly held by small business owners. The "dumbed down" standards will only benefit major chains, he said.

Criminal law changes

A major overhaul of Ohio's criminal justice standards passed the Senate 27-2. Substitute Senate Bill 288, which is 975 pages long, has been in the works for two years, according to its sponsor, state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville.

Among its many provisions are some increases to criminal penalties, while other parts aim to improve rehabilitation, Manning said.

One of the latter features is to increase credit to sentences for inmates' educational achievements, he said. Manning said Ohio now only gives 8% credit to the length of sentences for educational efforts behind bars, the least in the country. The bill raises that to 15%.

Another major provision is adding strangulation as a specific, serious crime; it's now often charged as domestic violence, Manning said.

Ohio is the only state without a strangulation law, but survivors of strangulation are far more likely to be killed in subsequent domestic violence, said state Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood.

The bill creates civil and criminal penalties for fertility doctors who use their own semen in artificial insemination without patients' consent, Manning said. Until now that hasn't been illegal in Ohio, he said.

The bill eases requirements for sealing and expunging criminal records, which would aid former inmates in getting jobs, Manning said. Misdemeanor offenders could qualify for that after three years, and felons after 10 years, he said. That wouldn't apply to violent offenses or sex crimes.

The conservative Buckeye Institute called for SB 288 to be enacted "without delay."

Manning said his bill is a companion to House Bill 699, sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. The House version is up for a hearing Thursday in the House Finance Committee.

Swatting

A bill to make "swatting" a third-degree felony passed the House 63-13. That charge would rise to a second-degree felony if someone is hurt during the incident.

Swatting is making a false report of a dangerous situation, resulting in a rapid and forceful police response. State Rep. Kevin Miller, R-Newark, is House Bill 462′s sponsor. The FBI estimates there are more than 400 cases of swatting each year, and those false reports are increasing in schools, he said. Several people have been hurt or killed when police burst into what they thought was a crime scene, Miller said.

Swatting calls are not only dangerous, but also a waste of police time and resources, so the bill allows courts to add restitution to the punishment, he said.

Fentanyl tests

Fentanyl testing strips would become exempt from the definition of drug paraphernalia under House Bill 456, which passed the House 72-4.

Fentanyl was involved in 81% of Ohio's overdose deaths in 2020, said Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, the bill's sponsor. The issue came to her attention from a constituent whose son used kratom, a legal herbal supplement, without knowing it was laced with fentanyl — and died, she said.

Boggs said she hopes the Senate will add authorization for local governments to buy test strips and make them available, so people can easily ensure what they take isn't contaminated with fentanyl.

Liability protection

Senators and representatives accepted a conference report on a bill about several forms of liability.

The original of Substitute Senate Bill 56 dealt with "overly broad" indemnity clauses for contractors on public contracts, Blessing said. It still allows indemnity clauses in such contracts, but sets rules for them.

A House committee added a provision that caused a "great deal of angst" to police, who worried it would impinge on their sovereign immunity, said Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati.

If someone is hit by a police officer responding to a call without lights or sirens, that officer and the local government are protected by immunity, he said. Insurance companies can refuse to cover the damage since the officer wasn't uninsured, just immune, Seitz said. So with the approval of the Ohio Insurance Institute, the bill would require insurers to cover such incidents.

The other amendment grants local governments civil and criminal immunity from liability for the actions of hospital police, if the officer acted in the line of duty on hospital property.

The conference report passed the House 74-1 and the Senate 29-0, sending the bill on to DeWine.