2016 Year in Review - Bills That Passed The Ohio General Assembly

Dec 28, 2016

A slew of bills that in other years might have been too controversial to touch not only got hearings at the Statehouse this year. They actually passed. 

For six years, Janet Folger Porter of Faith 2 Action tried to get lawmakers to pass what’s known as the “Heartbeat Bill’, a plan that makes abortion illegal at the point a fetal heartbeat is detected – as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. If it passed, it would be the most extreme abortion ban in the country. And this year, she succeeded. A year ago, Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) had said the bill was unconstitutional. But he said now things have changed: “New president, new Supreme Court justice appointees changed the dynamic and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward.”

The “Heartbeat Bill” was added to a child abuse bill, and while there was consensus in the House and Senate, there wasn’t in the Governor’s office. John Kasich vetoed it. But Kasich did sign into law another bill that banned abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Another issue that had been debated in the legislature for about 20 years finally passed – medical marijuana. Lawmakers were faced with the proposition that voters might vote in a medical marijuana program in the fall. So in the spring Republican leaders put together a state run medical marijuana system. One of the sponsors of the plan, Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville), said that was a good reason for lawmakers to pass it rather than waiting for voters because if the latter happened, lawmakers would be powerless to change it. “I hope it’s perfect if that’s the route people go. I do know humans, by their very character, are imperfect.” The law creating the program took effect in September, and implementation has been slow. It’s expected to take up to two years for the medical marijuana program to be fully up and running.

State lawmakers made it easier for Ohioans who have concealed carry permits to take their guns into places that had previously been off limits – like college campuses or day cares – if those facilities allow them. While opponents said they feared more guns would mean more violence, Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township) said allowing guns in what supporters call “victim zones” would increase safety. “I wish this bill wasn’t necessary but there are bad people out there and statistically, bad people keep shooting when they are set on this until they run out of ammunition or some good guy with a gun shows up,” Coley said. It’s important to note some government buildings with security, like the Statehouse, are exempt from the new law.

Lawmakers also made it easier for Ohioans to register online to vote – a proposal Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted had wanted. “It will make voting more secure, easier and will save a lot of money,” Husted said, and added that had online registration been in place between 2011 and this year, the state could have saved more than $17 million.

A bill that tosses out local bans on sales of dogs at pet stores passed, over the objections of animal activists such as Vicki Diesner of the ASPCA. “It has been stated that this is going to the best pet store regulations in the nation and when you compare with the other ones that are out there, they are actually the worst,” Diesner said.

This pet store bill, backed by Petland, became the "Christmas tree" bill of the lame duck session. Lawmakers adorned it with other measures, including a provision to make bestiality illegal, and another part increasing penalties for cock fighting. It also outlawed local communities from establishing their own minimum wage rates. And still another part banned cities from restricting where phone companies could site new technology for wireless customers. It was one big package of legislation, tied up like a bow with Gov. Kasich’s signature.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that allows schools to intervene for children who are frequently truant in hopes fewer kids would be expelled and thrown into the justice system. And they okayed a plan – really more of a stop gap measure – to deal with Ohio’s unemployment compensation fund. While many had hoped for a long term solution between labor and employers on how to shore up that fund, Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) says it’s a sign of good faith so both sides will come back to the table next year.