2022 Year In Review: Ohio Senate leaders look back on the state’s redistricting saga
Ohio’s redistricting saga, along with the election season, meant a lot of the top legislative issues were left on the cutting room floor by the end of session.
At the end of 2021, the Ohio Redistricting Commission sent new state and congressional district maps to the Ohio Supreme Court. It would kick off a process that would dominate the legislature for most of 2022.
The Ohio Supreme Court rejected them as unconstitutional and the commission had to go back to the drawing board.
It became a Groundhog’s Day scenario: the commission would adopt new maps and the court would reject them, again and again, five different times.
Senate Democratic Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) described the process as disappointing.
The 2015 constitutional amendment that prompted the whole process was intended to prevent gerrymandering. But Yuko said the maps still resulted in a lopsided advantage for Republicans.
“I was hoping that we would see an improvement in our numbers, and it didn't happen,” said Yuko.
The maps technically reflected Ohio’s 54% Republican to 46% Democratic ratio. But the court agreed with the argument that the maps would give an unfair advantage to Republicans in toss-up districts.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said the court went too far.
“The Ohio Supreme Court in my mind shouldn't have done what they did. They can say it’s unconstitutional or not, but they can't give us new criteria that's almost expressly forbidden in the constitution,” said Huffman.
In the end a federal court ordered the state to use the unconstitutional maps for the November election and the GOP did build on its supermajority; Republicans won 12 of the 16 Democratic toss-up districts — just as the maps’ opponents feared.
All of that took up a lot of time — about five months — and lots of policymaking got pushed to lame duck and beyond.
One issue expected to return next year: the attempt to overhaul the state’s education department. The bill, Senate Bill 178, came close to passing at the end of a marathon lame-duck session but fell short.
Yuko said the bill, which would strip power away from the Ohio State Board of Education, would not lead to more accountability.
“I think we've attracted some very capable candidates to run for state school board positions. And they've got the experience, they got the background, they got the passion to get the job done,” said Yuko.
The bill would put the governor’s office in charge of the state education department instead of members of the state board of education. Huffman said that’s ideal because the board doesn’t have a staff and are not paid well.
“We're asking them to hold accountable an entity – the Ohio Department of Education — that's spending about $12 billion a year, that's an impossible task. And I've watched this play out for 15 years over and over, the same way,” said Huffman.
Abortion will likely get a lot of attention in 2023 as well.
Senate Republicans wanted to pass a bill that clarified the state’s abortion ban – which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy – and when exactly abortion would be legal. But Huffman said they ran out of time.
“I think that can come back after the first of the year and we can see how those discussions proceed. And we understand, of course, there's a ballot initiative that may dominate the discussion next year,” said Huffman.
That ballot initiative would be a proposed amendment to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution.
Yuko said Ohioans probably won’t get abortion rights any other way.
“I want to be the legislature that represents the voice of the people, the people that I have spoken to in my Senate district and others – is that we need to do better here,” said Yuko.
November’s election, with the redrawn disputed maps, gave Republicans an historic majority in the Senate with 26 members in the caucus.
Along with education and abortion issues, the Senate will also have its hands full with the state’s two-year operating budget.