Ohio’s very busy lame duck: Abortion, criminal justice, voting overhauls

The bills being considered include a criminal justice package, an overhaul of the state board of education, and a change to the threshold needed for voters to approve a constitutional amendment.
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R) (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)

The Ohio legislature is busy on bills to crack down on fertility fraud, to make fake 911 calls a felony, and to make it easier to seal or expunge criminal records under consideration in their December session.

Here is what to watch as lawmakers make a final push before the Dec. 31 deadline for Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to sign bills before the new legislative session.

Criminal justice package: The state Senate approved on Wednesday the extensive bill that, among other things, addresses how much time prisoners can work off their sentences, underage drinking, and marijuana paraphernalia.

It would also make it illegal for doctors and other health care providers to use their genetic material in providing reproductive services, and it would attempt to ease the process of sealing and clearing criminal records, which can hinder those seeking to rejoin the job market.

The bill now goes to the House.

Constitutional amendments threshold: Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said Wednesday he supports a resolution that would require 60% of voters to change the state constitution rather than the current 50%-plus one threshold that currently exists. The resolution must be passed by both chambers of the legislature to appear on the ballot, but it does not require the governor’s signature.

Education: DeWine supports a Senate bill that would rename the Department of Education and put it under the supervision of a cabinet official, as well as overhaul the duties of the state board of education. Huffman said he expects the bill to pass next week.

Abortion: Huffman said Wednesday it is “highly unlikely” that lawmakers will ban abortion from the point of conception this year. But expect some legislation aimed at clarifying when doctors can perform abortions to save the mother’s life.

Swatting: The Ohio House passed a bill Wednesday that would increase the punishment for swatting or those who make prank emergency 911 calls to a third-degree felony. The penalty will rise to a third-degree felony if the prank results in someone being physically harmed.

Unemployment fraud: The Ohio Senate approved legislation cracking down on unemployment fraud. The bill requires, among other things, information sharing between state departments, verifying employees’ income with tax filings if employers don’t do so within 10 days, and prohibiting direct deposits of benefits to financial institutions that do not have a physical location in Ohio.

Unemployment fraud has increased after federal pandemic relief programs put in place during the forced shutdown of most businesses to keep COVID-19 from spreading. The bill heads to the House next.

Statute of limitation for abuse: A bill to allow the roughly 1,900 Ohioans abused by the Boy Scouts of America to receive 100% of their share of settlement funds is set to get a vote in the House on Thursday. The measure would abolish the civil statute of limitations for damages for victims of child sexual abuse in the event of bankruptcy settlements. The Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy in 2020 following hundreds of abuse lawsuits.

Fentanyl strips: The House approved a bill decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips, which the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, hopes will provide another way to help prevent overdose. But it is unclear if the Senate will be able to pass a similar measure before the end of the session.

Cosmetology and barber licenses: The Senate approved legislation that would lower the hours of training needed to get cosmetology or barber licenses to 1,000 from 1,500. The bill would also create a single school license for both professions. Differences between the Senate measure and a similar House bill will need to be squared before the measure can be approved by both chambers and sent to DeWine.