How Republicans wielded power, and other takeaways from the 133rd General Assembly

By: - January 20, 2021 12:40 am

The Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Jake Zuckerman, Ohio Capital Journal.

In Ohio, the path from conservative priority to becoming state law can be as unencumbered as was the case for Senate Bill 260.

A Republican introduced the bill to mandate that doctors administer abortion-inducing drugs in-person rather than through telemedicine. Thirty Republicans co-sponsored the bill. Republican-led committees advanced the legislation with only Republican votes. 

It then passed in both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives chambers, again with only Republican votes. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law.

Such is the legislative advantage of a supermajority. The party wielded this power four times over the course of the 133rd General Assembly, a review of the 2019-2020 legislative term by the Ohio Capital Journal found. These four bills, which saw no Democratic Party support at any point in the legislative process, involved two of the Republican Party’s major policy focuses: abortion and guns. 

Several of them were passed during the lame-duck session, the time period between Election Day and the end of a legislative term which traditionally sees a flurry of activity. Along with SB 260, December saw the passage of two other bills with exclusively Republican support that DeWine would sign into law: Senate Bill 175 (known colloquially as “Stand Your Ground” legislation) and Senate Bill 27, which requires abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains.

File photo of Rep. Kyle Koehler, lead sponsor of the “stand your ground” bill. Source: Ohio General Assembly

Much earlier in the term, DeWine signed another such bill into law: Senate Bill 23, the “Ohio Heartbeat Bill.” A subsequent court ruling prevented the law from taking effect. 

Along the way, the Republican majority got several other policy priorities passed, each with minor or moderate levels of Democratic Party support. 

Among the examples include House Bill 6, the controversial nuclear bailout bill that spurred the arrests of Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four political associates; House Bill 7, a bipartisan effort to protect Ohio water quality leading to the creation of the H2Ohio program; and House Bill 242, which prohibits local governments for the next year from instituting bans on plastic bags.

Here are some other takeaways from the 133rd General Assembly:

Legislating means overcoming the odds

It’s no secret that far more bills get proposed than ever successfully make it through the whole process to become law.

In the Ohio House of Representatives, members introduced a total of 805 bills between 2019-2020. Only 73 of them were eventually signed into law, or 9% of all those proposed. 

In the Ohio Senate, members introduced 389 bills, with 39 signed into law (10%).

That’s 112 bills that became law last term from an Ohio General Assembly that has 132 total seats. 

Each bill has one or two main sponsors. As the data shows, it’s pretty difficult for a lawmaker to succeed on multiple bills in a given term.

Sen. Stephanie Kunze of Hilliard led the Ohio Senate with five bills signed into law. Rep. Scott Oeslager in the Ohio House also had five signed into law.

There are a few caveats. Those in leadership positions typically propose fewer bills than others, as they are more involved with caucus organization. Not all bills are equal in importance bill — think a major reform bill versus designating the state fossil fish. 

It’s worth going to the Ohio legislation search page, finding your respective lawmaker and seeing exactly which bills they have sponsored/co-sponsored as well as which have been enacted into law.

The Ohio General Assembly is more bipartisan than you might think

As mentioned, there were 73 bills originating from the Ohio House that were signed into law. Nearly every single one of them — 70 out of 73 — featured bipartisan main sponsorship or co-sponsorship.

In other words, at least one member of each political party supported the proposed law enough to willingly put their name on it. 

Those three exceptions each involved a handful or more Democrats voting for a Republican-sponsored bill, even if they didn’t choose to be co-sponsors. 

Out of 39 bills signed into law originating from the Ohio Senate, 34 of them had bipartisan main sponsorship or co-sponsorship. 

Ohio Senate Chambers
The Ohio Senate Chambers. File Photo

One exception, Senate Bill 40 dealing with speech on college campuses, received some support from Democrats on the Ohio House floor. The remaining four exceptions were those mentioned at the outset of this article.

Tough sledding for Democrats

Facing supermajorities in both chambers can make it extremely difficult for Ohio Democrats to get any legislative priorities passed. The limited path to success involves compromise and bipartisanship, the data shows.

Of the 112 bills signed into law, just five had only Democratic members as main sponsors. This included bills to designate Feb. 18 as Toni Morrison Day, designate May as Brain Cancer Awareness Month and to allow for alcoholic ice cream sales. 

The 134th General Assembly will not be any easier for the Democratic Party, which lost three seats in the House and one in the Senate last election.



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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.