Musician sings of struggles as lawmakers highlight bills that would help black families

Members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus are seen at a news conference on Tuesday. Capital Journal photo by Tyler Buchanan.

The story sung by Paisha Thomas inside the Ohio Statehouse atrium tells of a hard-working mother. She has three kids, and is stuck picking up extra shifts on Fridays to make up for the time spent raising them. 

She weighs the cost and makes the choice, is it the chicken or the rent?

As the musician began her historical program, a group of lawmakers gathered nearby in the George Washington Williams Room, named in honor of the state’s first black legislator. More than a dozen members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus offered updates on a number of proposed bills meant to address challenges faced by black Ohio families.

State Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, serves as the caucus president and said Tuesday the hope is to “refocus” some attention on these bills. It is a timely message, she said, with February being Black History Month.

A handful of legislators spoke about their policy priorities, from health care needs to helping family caregivers. Highlights included:

  • State Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus — House Bill 434 would require Ohio’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Board to publish annual reports. Crawley highlighted statistics that show a disproportionate number of women who die from childbirth-related causes are black. HB 435 would require continuing education standards for childbirth health care professionals. 
  • State Rep. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights — HB 91 would establish a paid family leave program to allow Ohioans to better take care of family members both young and old. HB 206 would increase the tax credit given for those who adopt a child, while HB 454 would establish a tax credit for family caregivers. 
  • State Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus — Senate Bill 232 would cap insulin costs for a covered person at $100 per 30-day supply. Craig said rising insulin costs affect Ohioans’ pocketbooks in a “monumental way” and has “dire consequences.” Craig also noted a soon-to-be-introduced bill that would cap property tax increases at 3 percent per year. Along with aiding families, Craig said the legislation would shift the tax burden back on the state. “The state needs to pay its fair share of local government funding,” he said.
  • State Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron — SB 121 would establish health education standards in Ohio schools. Sykes pointed out that Ohio is the only state in America without health education standards, and that health curriculum is the only subject in Ohio without recognized standards. SB 186 would automatically register someone to vote, and update their voter registration, every time they make personal contact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. 
  • State Sen. Tina Maharath, D-Canal Winchester — SB 149 would outlaw an employer from asking a job applicant about their prior wage or salary history. Maharath said the goal is to “dismantle” institutional wage disparity. She also highlighted the importance of the 2020 U.S. Census and for all Ohioans to be accurately represented. 

Many of the bills described above have Republican co-sponsors. Though the legislators have some bipartisan support, Howse described a need to continue pushing for the bills to earn committee hearings and chamber-wide consideration. 

After the news conference ended, Thomas continued singing and playing the guitar inside the atrium. She was invited as part of a weekly program in February recognizing Black History Month at the Statehouse. 

State Sen. Cecil Thomas left the news conference and took a seat to listen. When Paisha Thomas led those present in a group singing of “We Shall Overcome,” the senator rose and sung along. 

A number of white legislators, aides and security personnel shuffled by the rear of the atrium or, sticking their heads through the entrance and seeing the program underway, turned and went a different way.

The story of the hardworking mother in Thomas’ song ends with an encouraging theme — that with positive change, she will no longer have to choose between her human needs. 

One day, there won’t be a this or a that. Poor people rising up, we’re fighting back, Thomas sang. Mama, don’t you worry because this tide is turning. Pretty soon, we’re gonna get the chicken and the rent.