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DeWine gets some praise, some pushback on State of the State from both parties

Gov. Mike DeWine (center) stands with Republican and Democratic leaders from the Ohio House and Senate outside the House chamber before his State of the State speech on April 10, 2024.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Gov. Mike DeWine (center) stands with Republican and Democratic leaders from the Ohio House and Senate outside the House chamber before his State of the State speech on April 10, 2024.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's sixth State of the State got some positive reviews, but also received pushback from legislators in his own party.

Both Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said they liked the emphasis on reading and on more child care, but were cautious about the spending involved.

But they were cool to the call for a law allowing drivers to be pulled over for not wearing seat belts. Stephens, who's also an insurance agent, said, "The issue becomes what is how much personal responsibility is required by individuals."

"Some of it is personal freedom. Some of it also is, the folks who tend to get those tickets, those folks who are stopped the most are people who are least able to pay the bill, usually people, or stopping at a stop sign in an urban area," said Huffman, who was initially skeptical of the distracted driving law that passed in 2022. "I guess need to hear from, a lot of testimony from those folks as to the effect that that would have."

They also agreed that DeWine's suggested statewide ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products was unlikely. The legislature overturned DeWine's veto of their ban on communities outlawing those products.

But Huffman and Stephens did differ on DeWine's proposal to require schools to implement responsible policies on the use of cell phones and called for them to be removed from classrooms.

"I thought the idea of eliminating use of smartphones during the school day is a great idea," Huffman said. "I suppose at some point there's an academic basis for the use of a smartphone, but, almost, I can't think of one."

But Stephens said school districts have the ability to do that, "and if they think that's the best policy, I think that's their decision to make."

Stephens and Huffman did not team up for a Republican response to the speech as in previous years. They are both running unopposed for the House, and they're likely to face one another next year, as both are expected to run for speaker.

Democrats talk childcare, guns

Although Democratic Senate and House leaders Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) highlighted some issues they might align with DeWine on this year, they disagreed with the peachy picture he painted in his address—routinely pointing at what they characterized as inaction and infighting among the majority party.

“He is ignoring the politics of the current General Assembly, where we've got a supermajority in both chambers, that are fighting amongst themselves,” Russo said. “There is real division, amongst the Republicans here in the legislature, and it is not going to be solved by one speaker versus another.”

DeWine’s hour-long remarks focused heavily on children.

But Russo chided him for taking less than one minute to touch on gun violence, said firearms are causing more and more deaths among that age range.

DeWine lauded state and local authorities in Cleveland for their arrest and gun seizures last year. Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) is the president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.

“Us that are living in Cleveland can tell you a different story,” Upchurch said. “The stats may say that gun violence is down statewide, but in urban areas, we are just, that's all we're seeing and that's all we're feeling.”

Democrats called for gun safety laws, as well as increased childcare eligibility. They also voiced their concerns with proposals to get rid of the state income tax.

House Bill 6 scandal looms, still

As expected, DeWine didn't mention Tuesday's death of Sam Randazzo, the former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chair appointed by DeWine in 2019, a few months before the nuclear power plant bailout law House Bill 6 passed. Randazzo died in what's being investigated by the Franklin County coroner as a suspected suicide.

But the pall cast by the news showed the HB 6 scandal is still a topic that has staying power.

“What is I think particularly tragic is that the lives and the livelihoods of individuals and families that have been destroyed because of this," Russo said, when asked Randazzo's death. "It's heartbreaking and it's sad. There is no joy, or no victory, in any of that."

Russo said her caucus will continue to push for reforms that would prevent another bribery scheme of the same size and scale.

“It's difficult to move forward when we're still learning things about this corruption scandal and when people are still paying for this corruption scandal,” Russo said.

The Republican leaders were also asked about Randazzo's apparent suicide. Stephens said it was sad but noted he wasn’t in the legislature in 2019 when the law was passed. Huffman, who was among the senators who voted unanimously to confirm Randazzo as PUCO chair in 2019, said he didn’t know him personally, and that it’s a tragedy.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.
Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.