Lawmakers see potential in Governor’s STRONG Ohio bill, hesitant about its future

Ohio Statehouse News

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – The response to Governor Mike DeWine’s STRONG Ohio bill, announced Monday afternoon, was swift and varied; and not along party lines as other issues have divided lawmakers at the Statehouse before.​

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko released this statement:​

“I’m encouraged by Governor DeWine’s message today and his ongoing efforts to make  Ohio a safer place to live and work.​

“The will of the people is clear: we must do something. That’s why Senate Democrats have  introduced 10 gun reform bills including universal background checks and a red flag law.  Our caucus remains dedicated to enacting meaningful legislation. Governor DeWine’s plan  is a good starting point for long-overdue reforms. While there are provisions that can be  strengthened during Senate hearings, we believe we are making progress.​

“I remain hopeful that we can pass common sense gun reforms during this General  Assembly. To save lives, we should work to pass bipartisan legislation as soon as possible.”​

Within the hour, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes released this statement:​

“When the people told the governor to do something, they didn’t mean to do just anything. Ohioans want common sense gun safety. STRONG Ohio is weak. It is not what Ohioans want. More than 90 percent of Ohioans want more commonsense gun safety, not watered down proposals to appease the gun lobby.  ​

While I applaud the Governor for making an effort, this plan falls desperately short of the comprehensive reforms necessary to keep our kids and communities safe.”​

Not everyone is on the same page when it comes to how they feel about this bill. There are similar sentiments across lawmakers at the Statehouse, and certain commonalities that are frequently agreed to such as Democrats saying it doesn’t go far enough.​

Even Republican lawmakers are not all onboard with the bill. ​

State Senator Frank Hoagland, who was named dropped by the sponsor of the bill State Senator Matt Dolan during Monday’s news conference, says he’s going to sit down and take a hard look at what the Governor is doing and see if what he is doing can dove tail with what he is doing.​

Hoagland has a bill currently being considered by the Ohio Senate focused on school safety, one aspect of which is a reunification phase for when a mass shooting does happen.​

“I want to make sure that we get that child back to their parents as fast as we can,” said Hoagland. “Nothing impacted me more than when I watched what happened at Sandy Hook and you had that whole line of cars sitting down that little road; and there’s one thing those parents wanted. They wanted their kids.”​

Meanwhile over in the Ohio House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House Larry Householder claims they have no clue what the Governor had been preparing; despite multiple news conferences held by the Governor of the past two months.​

In a statement released by his office, Householder says: ​

“We’ve not seen any proposed legislation implementing the governor’s plan. We are continuing our work on House Bill 354, which supports law enforcement and prosecutors by expanding the tools they need to protect public safety. Our bill closes gaps in current law, improves juvenile justice laws, and advances a balanced “pink slip” plan to protect the public and provide help to those who need it. The legislation also improves the current  federal background check process by establishing clear, consistent guidelines for what needs to be reported, when it needs to be reported and who is responsible for reporting it. This is the cornerstone of the effectiveness of our background check system.”​

House Bill 354 is a bill introduced by State Representatives Phil Plummer and D.J. Swearingen. It tackles similar aspects to what the Governor’s Strong Ohio bill addresses, but with significant differences.​

Plummer says, his intention for expanding the “pink slip” system to include drug dependency and alcoholism is to get people off the street and into treatment, just like the Governor’s plan.​

“It’s very similar to my bill, a lot of common sense solutions, I haven’t totally dug into it, so, you always look for the unintended consequences and that’s very important for people; so I need to really dig into his bill before I can further comment on it, but it’s very similar to ours,” said Plummer.​

As for the lack of knowledge of DeWine’s plan, House Majority Whip Jay Edwards says no one from DeWine’s administration talked to him about it.​

“Maybe they have reached out to some of our members, I can only speak for myself. I know I haven’t met with them and talked about the inner workings of this bill,” said Edwards on Tuesday.​

The whip of a party is responsible for drumming up support and securing votes for a piece of legislation. Having the whip up to speed on what the bill does can enhance those efforts.​

While some State Senators have expressed disappointment with how far the bill goes, there was a general consensus that with a little work the bill could pass through the Senate.​

However, they were not enthusiastic about the bill’s chances on the other side of the building in the House of Representatives.​

When asked about that, Edwards had this to say, “This isn’t Washington D.C., we don’t play the games of ‘we already know we’re not gonna take that bill up’. I think Speaker Householder has made it very clear; he’s very open to working not only across the aisle, but with the Senate, with the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, with the administration; he’s willing to work with anybody to pass good policy in our State.”​

But there in lies the rub; what good policy is, is not always agreed upon.​

“It’s easy to vote no on things, it’s easy just to not take things up; we want to get things done,” said Edwards. “However, we do want to be very cautious and make sure we’re protecting our members, we’re protecting the second amendment and making sure that the people of Ohio are protected with the bills that we’re passing and there are some deep concerns with the bill, with that bill as it sits right now.”​

Some of those concerns are with the new private seller background check system DeWine’s bill creates. ​

According to the pro-2nd Amendment advocacy group Ohio Gun Owners, further reading of the exact language of the bill needs to occur, but initially they are leaning toward opposing that specific provision if not the entire bill.​

With just a few months before lawmakers start to haggle over money for their districts in the Capital Improvements Budget, there is little time to waste to get DeWine’s bill moving through the Senate.​

Even if it does reach the House before lawmakers go on break next summer, after the budget is finalized, it may not see any real work until they come back after the election next November. Most lawmakers will be spending their summer months and the early fall campaigning to win back their seats.​

When they do come back after the election, there will be roughly 6 weeks to finalize any outstanding bills before the die as the General Assembly comes to a close at the end of 2020.​

The people of Dayton stood in front of Governor DeWine and chanted “do something.” He has, at the very least did something. Now it is up to lawmakers at the Statehouse, and even then a select few, to determine if they too will do something to move his legislation forward at a pace capable of seeing its completion.​

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