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Republicans considering forcing House vote on "intellectual diversity" bill to overhaul higher ed

A student walks past a building at Ohio State University.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
A student walks past a building at Ohio State University.

Some Republicans in the Ohio House are working behind the scenes, trying to see if there’s enough support to force a floor vote on a controversial higher education bill that’s passed the Senate. It would ban most diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] training on Ohio’s college campuses and require “intellectual diversity” in topics such as abortion, marriage, and elections.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is one of two lawmakers circulating a letter to gauge support for Senate Bill 83. The pair want to know if there's enough support for a discharge petition, which would force the House to vote on the bill.

Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said he's aware of the inquiry. And he said it's not easy to know the support based on partisan affiliation because some of his fellow Republicans are conflicted about that bill.

“There are members who are for getting rid of DEI things on college campuses that are against the bill, and they have issues with it because they think it goes a little bit too far and it has some perverse incentives in there," Edwards said.

Edwards said some lawmakers have questions about how the bill could be applied and wonder if it could have affected the way Ohio State University's president recently dealt with college protests over the Israel/Hamas war. Republicans, including SB 83's sponsor Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) praised Ted Carter after protests at OSU's main campus in April. In one demonstration dozens of people were arrested, including some involved in a group prayer, after they were repeatedly told they couldn't set up an encampment.

“I think it’s a much more complex bill. We’ve seen things going on on college campuses recently. We’ve seen President Carter and the statements he made at Ohio State," Edwards said. "There’s some people who believe maybe he wouldn’t be able to make those statements and do the things he did if SB 83 were in place so we are wanting to make sure we are getting this thing right."

The bill also prohibits universities from taking public positions on controversial topics, though they can lobby lawmakers on issues. It cuts the terms of university trustees from nine years to six years. And it includes a ban on financial partnerships with China, but that doesn’t include tuition from Chinese students.

The Senate passed SB 83 last year. It passed a House committee in December after a ban on faculty strikes was dropped from the bill. But Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has said it doesn't have the votes to pass on the floor.

Lawmakers are set to go on a summer break later this month and are not expected to be back until after the November elections. But Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said he's "holding out hope" SB 83 will pass next week.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau