Despite Pandemic And Scandals, Legislature Passed Key Bills
The pandemic slowed down work at the Statehouse in 2020. But lawmakers did pass bills that make it easier for Ohioans to get health care, make it easier for local communities to get money to fund programs and make it more difficult to get an abortion. As part Ohio Public Radio’s series looking back on 2020, Jo Ingles reports.
Perhaps the biggest bill Ohio lawmakers passed happened in June - a $1.3 billion measure funding capital projects and providing $350 million in federal CARES Act funding for improvements for schools and public entities in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.
In September, they also passed legislation that protected schools and businesses from being sued because of the transmission of coronavirus.
Governor Mike DeWine said the legislation does two key things.
“We believe we can do two things at once. One is to fight the COVID, the virus and keep people safe but at the same time we know that we have to have the economy coming back. And we are making some progress in that area.”
Some lawmakers and Ohioans took issue with DeWine's response to the pandemic, sparking protests at the Statehouse in the summer.
They claimed DeWine was killing Ohio’s economy. And some said he was picking winners and losers by allowing large retailers to stay open as essential while ordering shutdowns of some small "mom and pop" businesses that sold some of the same items.
Republicans pushed a bill to strip DeWine of having that power to close businesses but he vetoed it. They didn't try to override it, but Republican Senate President Larry Obhof said instead they included that part about business equity in an appropriations bill passed during Lame Duck.
“So that you can’t have the situation we saw last spring where small businesses close or get heavily regulated while larger ones, since they are deemed essential, get to stay open.”
At the onset of the pandemic, businesses were allowed to serve alcoholic drinks with to-go meals. That became permanent this fall. Republican Representative DJ Swearingen quoted the Rolling Stones when arguing for the bill allowing up to three carryout drinks per meal in sealed or covered containers.
“You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you get what you need and Ohio’s bar and restaurant owners need this bill.”
Alcoholic ice cream also became legal in Ohio this year.
But this was a challenging year for some lawmakers.
Several members on both sides of the aisle in both chambers tested positive for COVID - Democratic Representatives John Patterson and John Rogers were hospitalized.
And House members had to take time out in the summer to replace Republican Larry Householder as speaker after he was charged with several federal felonies, including bribery and racketeering.
But before the two-year session ended in December, lawmakers tackled a perennial favorite of Republicans - abortion bills. One prevents doctors from using telemedicine to prescribe medication that causes abortion. Another requires fetal remains from surgical abortions to be buried or cremated.
Democratic Representative Erica Crawley of Columbus called her Republican colleagues who voted to pass that one hypocrite because they aren’t passing proposed legislation that would deal with infant and maternal mortality.
“It is unacceptable that this General Assembly, the members in this House and Chamber, will continue to talk about the dignity of life but allow women to continue to die.”
But lawmakers also passed a bill that would stop surprise medical bills from out of network providers. Ohio Association of Health Plans President Kelly O’Reilly says this will help one in six Ohioans who get bills with expensive out of network charges.
“And most can’t afford to pay them. It’s unexpected and many times or sometimes, a very high cost.”
That bill will be important to many Ohioans because many hospitals are closing the year at or near capacity due to COVID-19 patients.