Advocacy update December 20, 2022

Advocacy update December 20, 2022 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection
Ohio Lame Duck ends

Ohio’s Legislature passed a blizzard of bills last week; sending them to Governor DeWine. Here’s what did not pass: HJR6, raising the bar for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, and SB 178 that would have stripped almost all the powers of the state Board of Education.  In addition, the legislature allocated some of the state’s general revenue surplus and federal ARPA funds to crucial community needs. Read more below about the dramatic impact of faith-based advocacy in these outcomes!  Your voice counts!

Here’s an overview of some of legislation that we’ve been tracking that the Governor will either sign or veto.

  • Sub HB 458 adds new hurdles to voting in Ohio
  • HB 570 requires oil and gas leases on Ohio’s public lands, bypassing normal review and public comment
  • SB 288 makes important progress towards restorative justice, and includes Erin’s Law mandating that public schools teach children how to recognize and seek protection against sexual abuse and violence.
  • HB 45 allocates federal and state money to schools, housing, and food security

To contact Governor DeWine on the bills that passed, click here. If the Governor’s voice mail is full, use the email form. Please fill out a separate email for each bill on which you are recommending the Governor’s signature or veto.

Major Ohio news outlets cited the role of the faith community and a huge coalition of nonprofits in persuading the Ohio Legislature to abandon the press to change the rules for amending the constitution, at least for now. The Ohio Council of Churches’ Advocacy in Advent and follow-up by many people of faith – including several from our diocese – added to the momentum that passed the criminal justice reform and the allocation of state and federal money to child care, rental assistance, and emergency food programs – a blessing as inflation continues to burden Ohio’s working families.  Participants in both Advocacy in Advent Nov. 29 and the Dec. 13 Rally for Democracy assembled at Trinity Episcopal Church, Capitol Square before heading across the street to the Statehouse.

HB 458 adds new barriers to voting

This bill passed last week, replacing and adding to the voting barriers in Sub HB 294, which I’ve been writing about for several weeks.  Here are key elements of this bill.

  • Voters will lose access to drop boxes by limiting Boards of Election to a single drop box location, open during business hours only, and limited to the early voting period (so drop boxes couldn’t be used to drop off voter registration forms or drop off absentee ballots after work.
  • Voters will lose the freedom to vote provisionally with the last four digits of their social security number, unless they have religious exemption that excuses them from the strict photo ID requirement
  • Voters will lose the freedom to register to vote and vote with an alternate form of ID such as a utility bill, government document, or paycheck.
  • Voters will be punished by slow mail delivery. Voters will have their absentee ballots thrown out if their ballots are not received by just four days after Election Day (this shorter deadline applies to overseas and military voters as well). Previously, absentee ballots that contained a timely postmark were counted as long as the post office delivered ballots to the boards of elections within 10 days after Election Day
  • Voters will be forced to provide a strict photo ID to vote, whether voting by absentee ballot, or in person on Election Day, or provisionally.
  • Citizenship status must be listed on driver’s licenses and state IDs.  Being marked as a “non-citizen” “ will lead to increased harassment and discrimination against the immigrant and refugee community every time someone uses their ID to purchase something, travel, verify payments, access services and more,” reports Cincinnati’s Immigrant Dignity Coalition, in which the Church of Our Saviour is a vital participant.
HB 507 forces fossil fuel leases on Ohio’s public lands and defines natural gas as “green energy”

I’m relaying the Ohio Environmental Council call to oppose HB 507, which this statewide nonprofit warns is “a major oil and gas industry power grab that’s unfolding in the Ohio legislature’s lame duck session.” On Dec. 6, “the industry snuck in two last-minute and far-reaching amendments to House Bill 507—a bill originally written to govern the sale of chickens. Within 24 hours, 22 senators voted to approve the bill without any public discussion, and sent the bill to the Ohio House for a concurrence vote. The first amendment would redefine natural gas as ‘green energy.’The second amendment would give the oil and gas industry control over what state parks and public lands are leased and when. Our state public lands have been threatened by fracking interests for more than a decade, but never as much as they are now.”

Bills endorsed by the Ohio Council of Churches and other faith-based groups

SB 288 Omnibus Criminal Justice Reform significantly shortens the time people must wait to apply for expungement of misdemeanor and minor misdemeanor convictions.  The bill increases the credit a prisoner can earn for participating in programing from 8% to 15% of the prisoner’s term. Arrest or conviction for possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia would no longer be reported as a criminal record.  Surprisingly, in the middle of the night, Erin’s Law was added as an amendment, mandating staff training in child sexual abuse prevention and an hour a year of developmentally-appropriate student instruction in K-12 public and charter schools to equip children to recognize and protect themselves from sexual violence and abuse.  The curriculum for teenagers will include dating and sexual violence prevention. It took seven years of advocacy by survivors of child sexual abuse and their families to get this into law. Parents can opt out. ‘A statewide survey released in August found that 87% of Ohio parents believe schools should provide age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention education to help students recognize signs of abuse, according to the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio,”reports NBC 4 WCMH in Columbus.

HB 45 allocates Ohio’s unspent federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funds and a significant share of the state’s general fund surplus.  The Governor can use a line-item veto on this bill. Housing advocates are asking him to veto the amendment that bans using low-income housing tax credits and historic tax credits at the same time. This amendment would harm several ongoing programs for housing low-income Ohioans. But there is a lot of good news in this bill.

The Ohio Council of Churches and Hunger Network in Ohio advocated for significant funding for housing and food security. While the allocation is far less than requested, here is positive news from HB 45, reported by the Rev. Nick Bates, Executive Director of Hunger Network in Ohio:

  • Rental assistance:  $161 million
  • Ohio’s food banks:  $25 million
  • K-12 schools to address impacts of pandemic:  $1.75 billion
  • Nursing facility workforce support $350 million
  • Water and sewer programs $325 million
  • Lead prevention and mitigation $150 million
  • Child care supplement $498.5 million
  • Legal services for Ukrainian refugees $5 million
  • Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction services $175 million 

Ohio has been receiving higher tax revenue than projected for several months because of inflation in prices (more sales tax) and rising incomes. HB 45 sends $741 million of the General Revenue surplus to the state’s Rainy Day fund.

HJR6 dead for now!

“Ohioans can still change their constitution with a simple majority vote after a measure to raise that threshold to 60% collapsed due to inadequate support among House Republicans,” writes WSYX reporter Darrel Rowland. “A veteran legislator told ABC 6 On Your Side that the proposal came under heavy fire when GOP House members met privately Tuesday: “Dead is a strong word but, it had a rough time in discussions today. Let’s say life support is about the best I see.’

“Tuesday, hundreds of protesters filed through a Statehouse hallway to “vote” against the proposal,” Rowland continues. “Brandishing signs with such slogans as ‘Kill the Bill, Not Democracy,’ the group had marched from a church building across the street to the center of state government chanting ‘This is what democracy looks like!’”

Members of a coalition of some 170 groups, including the Ohio Council of Churches, joined for the lunchtime protest over sweeping new voting restrictions that were racing through the Ohio legislature.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a longtime community advocate and member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com