What to know as the 134th Ohio General Assembly’s legislative work ramps up
When the Ohio House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus recently announced its committee assignments, one members’ name was noticeably absent: the former House speaker who is on trial for public corruption.
Rep. Larry Householder is serving his third term in the 72nd District, having been reelected last November despite his arrest months prior for alleged involvement in a political bribery scheme.
Committee membership is assigned by party leaders within the Ohio House and Senate. Republicans serve as committee chairs due to being the majority party.
Committees play an important role in the legislative process. Lawmakers hear testimony from bill advocates and opponents, debate the merits of a proposed law and decide whether it should be sent to the full chamber for a vote.
House Speaker Bob Cupp’s decision to exclude Householder from all committees could signal plans to have the Perry County Republican expelled prior to his trial verdict. The Ohio Capital Journal reported last month that Cupp’s office privately sought the drafting of a resolution to expel a member.
The request did not name the member in question, but Cupp previously discussed the possibility of the chamber voting to expel Householder after the new term began this year.
A spokesperson for the House Republican caucus did not respond to a request for comment about Householder’s lack of committee assignments.
Here are some other takeaways from House and Senate committee assignments for the 134th General Assembly (2021-22):
Though Householder will not be on any committees this term, many of those once supported by Householder will serve in committee leadership positions.
The former speaker donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to fellow Republican legislative candidates during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.
There are 18 current members of the Ohio House of Representatives that received contributions from Householder. Fourteen of them will serve either as a committee chair or vice chair this term.
A few new committees in the House
Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Twp., the assistant majority floor leader, noted the addition of four new committees in the Ohio House of Representatives. One committee is gone from last term and several others have been renamed.
Carfagna said these changes reflected the state’s current, unique challenges.
Among the new committees: Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports; Technology and Innovation; Infrastructure and Rural Development; and Government Oversight.
The House Federalism Committee was removed. There are a few name and topical changes, such as the higher education committee now also covering “career readiness.”
Freshmen get leadership positions
Committee leadership positions are usually reserved for more experienced lawmakers, but there are a number of exceptions in the 134th Ohio General Assembly.
Each committee has a Republican chair and vice chair as well as a Democratic ranking member. With additional leadership spots for the Republican caucus, more than a dozen first-term lawmakers have been elevated to vice chair positions.
Such assignments are based on a legislator’s personal expertise. For example, Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, will serve as vice chairman of the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee after having been a school principal and district superintendent in Southwest Ohio. Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, will be vice chair of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee, having served eight years in the U.S. Air Force.
Here is a list of first-term lawmakers with committee leadership spots:
- Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, Senate Local Government and Elections Committee
- Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee
- Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, House Agriculture and Conservation Committee
- Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, House Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Committee
- Rep. Gail Pavliga, R-Atwater, House Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee
- Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Chillicothe, House Commerce and Labor Committee
- Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, House Energy and Natural Resources Committee
- Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, House Financial Institutions Committee
- Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, House Government Oversight Committee
- Rep. Tom Young, R-Centerville, House Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee
- Rep. Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, House Insurance Committee
- Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, House Primary and Secondary Education
- Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, House Public Utilities Committee
- Rep. Marilyn John, R-Shelby, House State and Local Government Committee
- Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., House Technology and Innovation Committee
Two Republicans who sought DeWine impeachment benched
A pair of Republicans who served as committee chairs last term were removed from leadership for this term: Reps. Paul Zeltwanger of Mason and Nino Vitale of Urbana.
Both were cosponsors for articles of impeachment drafted against Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow Republican, in opposition of the governor’s pandemic response. Cupp condemned the impeachment effort at the time.
Health committee leaders spur controversy
The leaders of the two chambers’ health committees have drawn attention in Ohio and beyond for controversial statements made within the past year.
Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, will remain the chair of the House Health Committee. Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, a licensed medical doctor, will serve as chair of the Senate Health Committee.
Lipps is a vaccine skeptic with connections to a well-known anti-vaccine group in Ohio. In a video conference with the group last April, Lipps told members: “We’re gonna face a couple bills that this group does not like. And I have to have energy to stop this vaccine shit that’s coming.”
The comments were first reported by the Ohio Capital Journal in August. They received more attention in recent weeks following a video report about anti-vaccine sentiments in Ohio by the news outlet AJ+.
Huffman received considerable attention last June for remarks made during a committee discussion about declaring racism a public health crisis. In an exchange with Angela Dawson, the executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, Huffman questioned why the state saw higher incidence of coronavirus among Black communities.
“Could it just be that African-Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups, or wear a mask, or do not socially distance themselves, could that just be the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?” Huffman asked.
Huffman was condemned by Democratic lawmakers and by Gov. Mike DeWine, who called his words “inappropriate and hurtful to so many Ohioans.” A number of groups urged Huffman to resign, including the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.
Huffman did not resign, though he was fired from his job as an ER doctor.
In January, Huffman’s cousin, Senate President Matt Huffman, appointed the doctor to lead the Senate Health Committee.
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus told The Associated Press that Steve Huffman is “highly qualified” to chair the committee because of his experience in the healthcare industry. The spokesperson characterized the June 2020 comments as being a “clumsy and awkwardly worded question” that Huffman has apologized for.
Better safety protocols?
There is no requirement for lawmakers or visitors to wear face masks in the Ohio Statehouse.
Senate President Matt Huffman did say on Wednesday he would urge committee leaders to enforce social distancing within hearing rooms.
That morning, chairs inside the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee were arranged to ward off clusters of visitors sitting together. But those in attendance rearranged chairs and a crowded group of maskless visitors observed the proceedings, leading Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, to leave and watch from his office.
Huffman said there will be a limit on people allowed to be in a hearing room going forward.