Commentary

This year, Ohio lawmakers can break lame duck’s bad reputation

November 24, 2020 12:20 am

The Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

Ah, lame duck. The name says it all. It is everyone’s, including many legislators, least favorite season — even with long, Ohio winters. As the election buzz begins to die down, every two years, our lawmakers come together for a final round robin of legislating before they head home for the holidays.

Lame duck is typically a hair-on-fire six-week period that shuns formality and process in favor of lightning fast results. This is especially evident when lawmakers attempt to ram through controversial legislation under the cover of chaos.

It’s easy to get whiplash when focusing on the pressing issues of the day and bills that have been winding through the legislative process, when all of a sudden legislators take a hard left turn and introduce new legislation with only weeks left on the legislative calendar.

Take House Bill 784 — a bill that creates new criminal offenses to “combat rioting, looting and violence.” While this bill may masquerade itself as a necessary addition to our already overwhelming stack of criminal penalties, it is actually an unconstitutional bill that would chill Free Speech rights, endorse vigilante actions, and distract Ohioans from actual problems which need solutions during a worsening global pandemic. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, this lame duck session could be special. There are several proactive, reform-minded bills sprinting towards a full floor vote. Ohio’s legislators should give these bipartisan, common sense policy proposals a chance.

First up, Senate Bill 3, a bill that reduces some current felony-level drug possession penalties to misdemeanors. Make no mistake, this bill should not be controversial, especially when it can help the hundreds of thousands of families and individuals that have been ravished by the opioid epidemic across Ohio. People struggling with drug abuse and addition don’t need a felony conviction, they need a helping hand. They deserve law and policy that understands that relapse is part of recovery, and it takes time to heal.

We also know that Ohio has a serious mass incarceration problem. Between 1980 and 2016, Ohio’s prison population grew by nearly fourfold. Drug laws are a big culprit behind this growth. In fact, Drug Possession is the number one reason people are sent to an Ohio prison. That is true not only for 2020 but for the past seven, consecutive years. While criminal justice reform has been a topic of public conversation for years, truly impactful legislation has fallen woefully short. Senate Bill 3 can modernize Ohio’s drug policy laws, and it’s time to pass it once and for all.

Another set of bills on the verge of passage are SB 11 and HB 369 — both known as the Ohio Fairness Act. These bills are co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, with the backing of over 1,000 businesses who want to stop Ohio’s brain drain and attract the best talent to grow Ohio’s economy by making our state welcoming for all.

This legislation is simple in theory but powerful in scope — it adds sexual orientation and gender identity into Ohio’s pre-existing non-discrimination law. It’s sad to say that this is needed, but in Ohio, LGBTQ people still face legal discrimination in housing, employment and public places. While there are no statewide protections, 32 municipalities and one county have adopted their own protections. But that is not good enough.

Should living free from legal discrimination be determined by your zip code? Should you lose or gain rights while driving to and from work? The answer is no, and it is far past time for Ohio lawmakers to do the right thing and pass the Ohio Fairness Act. Similar bills have been introduced in every session of the Ohio General Assembly since 2008. This is a human rights issue, not a partisan issue, and lawmakers must stop kicking the can down the road and do what is right and necessary to protect all Ohioans.

It’s simple: bills that can directly affect thousands of Ohioans — enriching lives and strengthening all of our communities — should not sit on the sidelines this legislative session. Ohioans need to see that our legislature works for them, not dark money or private interests. From our friends and neighbors struggling with the grips of the opioid epidemic to LGBTQ students determining where to look for work after graduation, we all need to see action from our lawmakers.

The time is ripe to restore faith in our democratic processes and institutions. Passing bipartisan, high impact bills, and leaving behind failed policy, is exactly what is needed. 

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Jocelyn Rosnick
Jocelyn Rosnick

Jocelyn Rosnick is the Policy Director for the ACLU of Ohio. She joined the ACLU of Ohio staff in 2012, where she has used her legal, communications, and organizing skills to move between departments and work on a variety of high-level projects. In addition to her work with the ACLU, she coordinates the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild which trains individuals to be legal observers at demonstrations in order to safeguard protestor’s constitutional rights. Jocelyn received her B.A. in sociology with an emphasis on social inequality from West Virginia University. Although a Mountaineer at heart, Jocelyn moved to Cleveland to attend Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where she received her Juris Doctor in 2012.

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