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Could 2020 Bring Action On LGBTQ Protections Or Drug Sentencing Reform?

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, shakes hands with Ohio House speaker Larry Householder after delivering the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Paul Vernon
Associated Press
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, shakes hands with Ohio House speaker Larry Householder after delivering the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

This year, Ohio lawmakers managed to send 21 bills to the governor's desk for his signature. However, there are many other proposals that received a lot of attention but are still waiting in the wings for 2020.

Coming into the new General Assembly, lawmakers made tackling drug sentencing laws a top priority after encouraging voters to reject Issue 1 on last November's ballot.

That issue would have overhauled drug sentencing and pushed more offenders towards treatment rather than prison. Opponents feared that could be too lenient on drug traffickers and make drug courts less effective, though.

Now, the Ohio Senate is considering SB3, which would shift some drug possession offenses from low-level felonies to misdemeanors.

Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) says lawmakers are still hard at work on the issue.

"To make sure that we're getting people the treatment that they need, to make sure that people who have a need to get addiction treatment and can benefit from that help and get back on their feet and become productive members of society again, or are doing that while making sure that people who are preying on our communities who are drug traffickers are going to jail where they belong," Obhof says.

The bill is still in a Senate committee but Obhof believes it's one of the most important bills of the two-year session.

Gambling was another big issue in 2019 after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a national ban on sports betting last year.

The Ohio House and Senate both have bills to create a legal sports betting system in Ohio. The Senate would put the Ohio Casino Control Commission in charge, while the House wants the Ohio Lottery Commission to oversee sports gambling.

In April, state Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) said there are many businesses that want in on the action.

“There are bars and restaurants that would like it there," Greenspan said. "There are a whole host of other organizations – we’ve even been outreached by some grocery store chains that want to offer sports gaming in their facility."

Following the mass shooting in Dayton, many hours were spent debating gun issues in the Statehouse without any bills passing, including over Gov. Mike DeWine's anti-gun violence package known as "STRONG Ohio." That's still sitting in a Senate committee.

Several bills addressing domestic violence also await approval by the House and Senate. That includes House Bill 3, which would create a new system for the way police and communities handle domestic violence cases from the beginning, creating a network of support right away.

State Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) says this can curb violence before it escalates.

"Victims of abuse, domestic violence deserve to be heard, believed, and ultimately have the opportunity to pursue justice with the support they need to do just that," said Boyd in February.

The bill is named "Aisha's Law," after Aisha Fraser, who was killed by former judge and state lawmaker Lance Mason.

Also sitting in a House committee is a bill that specifically lifts the statute of limitations so accusers of Ohio State team doctor Richard Strauss could sue the school. Strauss is accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of male student athletes.

The state's much-criticized school takeover law saw a one-year moratorium implemented in the state budget, but three different bills try to implement a permanent strategy for failing school districts. A House bill that would give districts more time to improve before the state takes over is sitting in the Senate.

Steve Cawthon is on Lorain City School's Academic Distress Commission, and he says it’s just not working.

“Our schools should have a unique and impartial opportunity to allow their unique social and economic opportunities to shape the structures that will allow their districts to prosper," Cawthon said in June.

Other bills waiting for more debate and possible action include the Ohio Fairness Act, which would add discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, occupational licensing reciprocity, and additional regulations around food stamps.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.