COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Dozens of bills that received Gov. Mike DeWine’s stamp of approval earlier this year will take effect this week.
From prohibiting “fertility fraud” and phony “swatting” calls to requiring child sex abuse instruction in schools and photo identification at the polls, here are a handful of new laws that commenced on Sunday or otherwise are set to start this week:
Crime, Policing and Public Safety
Texting and driving
Ohio motorists can be pulled over by law enforcement solely for driving with an electronic device in hand, except in cases where a driver is stopped at a red light or holding a phone to their ear.
The new distracted driving restriction makes having a phone while driving a primary offense — meaning law enforcement personnel no longer need a secondary reason, such as swerving between lanes, to pull over someone on their phone.
A violation could result in a ticket and up to $500 in fines, but law enforcement will, for six months after April 3, only issue warnings as Ohioans adjust to the new law.
Guns during a riot, mob or state of emergency
Deadly weapon or firearm businesses must be deemed “essential” businesses during a state of emergency, like the one DeWine declared at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Senate Bill 16, state agencies and political entities cannot curtail access to firearms in such states of emergency.
When trying to suppress a riot or mob, political entities with police powers are allowed to cordon off any area threatened by the demonstrators and prohibit those demonstrators from entering it. Law enforcement can ban dynamite or other explosives within the cordoned-off areas — but cannot ban firearms, ammunition, or other dangerous weapons.
House Bill 462 establishes “swatting,” the act of intentionally reporting false or misleading information to law enforcement, as its own criminal offense.
The bill garnered attention in the General Assembly amid a September notice from the Ohio Department of Public Safety alerting people to a “statewide series of bogus phone calls,” including a false active shooter report at a Licking County high school.
Healthcare professionals are barred from committing “fertility fraud,” which involves the use of reproductive material to inseminate a patient without their consent.
Prior to the Senate Bill 288’s enactment, several Ohioans testified before lawmakers about their discovery — often decades after conception — that the obstetricians presiding over their parents’ fertility care, including a Cincinnati-area doctor, used their own sample during the insemination.
Drug paraphernalia, fentanyl test strips
Under Ohio law, the state offers some level of immunity to people who seek out medical assistance for themselves or another person experiencing a drug-related overdose. Senate Bill 288 broadens the “Good Samaritan” provision, including adding drug paraphernalia.
The bill clarifies that fentanyl testing strips are not considered drug paraphernalia.
Record sealing, expungement
Senate Bill 288 also tackles criminal record sealing and expungement provisions in Ohio, broadening when prior charges, arrests, or convictions can be sealed away from public view or deleted entirely.
The sealing waiting period ranges from six months to seven years and is dependent on whether what is being sealed is a felony or misdemeanor, among other factors. People can file applications to have misdemeanors expunged three years after sealing them, and for felonies, ten years after sealing them.
Dementia training for law enforcement
Peace officers and emergency medical service personnel are now required to undergo training to identify and interact with Ohioans diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s or other related disorders.
As outlined in House Bill 23, training topics must include the psychiatric and behavioral symptoms of dementia, communication techniques, alternatives to physical restraint, and protocol for contacting caregivers or community resources in the case of an emergency.
Animal cruelty, euthanasia by gas chamber
Senate Bill 164 enhances penalties against Ohioans who knowingly cause serious harm to a companion animal, making the offense a fifth-degree felony.
Animal shelters are also prohibited under the law from using a gas chamber to euthanize a domestic animal. The bill bans the adulteration of pet food, whether it’s through poisonous chemicals or another animal’s remains.
Sex offenders and volunteering
Under Senate Bill 16, Ohioans who are convicted of a sexually oriented offense involving a child victim are banned from volunteering in a position that affords extensive contact with minor children. The prohibition applies to Tier II and III sex offenders and those similarly classified prior to 2008.
The enactment of House Bill 458, an omnibus election-related bill, means that in order to vote, Ohioans must now show photo ID at the polls, as opposed to earlier rules permitting voters to show non-photo ID, like utility bills. The photo ID requirement does not apply to mail-in voters.
House Bill 458 also requires Ohioans to request an absentee ballot sooner, making the deadline seven days before Election Day as opposed to three days before. Absentee ballots must arrive at the board of elections by the fourth day — instead of the tenth day — after Election Day.
Early in-person voting
Ohioans can no longer vote during the six-hour period typically held the Monday before Election Day. Instead, House Bill 458 requires the Secretary of State to reallocate those six hours across the preceding week.
August special elections
The enactment of House Bill 458 means political entities are forbidden from holding an election in August, unless nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot.
However, the banning of most August elections could be short-lived, as Ohio lawmakers are attempting to bring it back this year in order to pose before voters a ballot initiative making it harder to amend the state’s constitution.
Child sex abuse prevention curriculum
Under Erin’s Law, Ohio’s public, charter and STEM schools must provide students in kindergarten through sixth grade with one hour of developmentally appropriate instruction on sexual abuse prevention each school year. For seventh through 12th graders, schools must teach dating and sexual violence prevention.
Parents and legal guardians can opt their child out of the instruction, and the lessons cannot be provided by organizations associated with abortion. The bill’s namesake, Chicago native Erin Merryn, worked to pass it across the U.S. after she was sexually abused by a neighbor and family member as a child.
Religious accommodation for students
The “Testing Your Faith Act,” or House Bill 353, requires state colleges and universities to provide students with at least three days each semester to observe a religious holiday.
Temporary licenses for returning teachers
The Ohio Department of Education must, under House Bill 554, award retired and former teachers who want to get back into the classroom with nonrenewable, two-year temporary education licenses — so long as the recipient completes either 18 continuing education units or six semester hours of coursework during the duration of the temporary license.
Energy and Environment
Fracking, natural gas
House Bill 507, nicknamed the “Chicken Bill,” redefines natural gas as a form of “green energy,” which is considered energy that is “more sustainable and reliable relative to some fossil fuels.”
Originally authored to reduce the minimum number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots, the bill also includes provisions to expedite the process for oil and gas companies to get fracking leases.
Disability can’t be used to deny parental rights
Ohio courts, children’s services, child placement, and adoption agencies cannot deny or limit parental or custodial rights based on a person’s disability.
Instead, Senate Bill 202 realigns agencies’ actions with how nondisabled parents are typically treated: challenging a person’s parental or custodial rights only when there is clear and convincing evidence of a threat to a child’s welfare.
Ohio mayors and officiating marriage
The enactment of House Bill 35 allows Ohio mayors to solemnize a marriage anywhere in the state — an expansion from an earlier law that permitted them to do so only in counties with a mayor’s municipal corporation.
Water pressure at public pools
Under Makenna’s Law, the owner of a public swimming pool, spa or special-use pool must limit the pressure of the water — specifically setting it at no more than 20 feet per second — to protect patrons from injury.
The bill, House Bill 178, is named after a Milford girl who was seriously hurt in November 2019 while attending a friend’s birthday party at an indoor waterpark. At the time, she was 7 years old.