Guns, abortion, license fee bills ready for votes in Ohio Legislature

Ohio lawmakers are taking final action this week on bills to address gun regulations, abortion access, drug sentencing reforms and more.
Ohio lawmakers are taking final action this week on bills to address gun regulations, abortion access, drug sentencing reforms and more.

Credit: Laura A. Bischoff

Credit: Laura A. Bischoff

State lawmakers are on the brink of putting a controversial energy law on pause for a year, rather than repealing the $1.3 billion bailout that is at the center of an alleged $60 million bribery and racketeering case.

A special committee in the Ohio House voted 8-7 for House Bill 798, which triggers a one-year delay of fees that are scheduled to go on more than 4 million electricity customers statewide as of Jan. 1. The fees are supposed to subsidize operation of two nuclear power plants owned by Akron-based Energy Harbor.

Several lawmakers, state leaders, consumer groups and environmental advocates want the energy law repealed in its entirety. But others argue that the one-year delay would allow time to audit Energy Harbor to ensure it needs the subsidies to keep the nuclear plants open.

It is unclear whether the delay bill will get a floor vote on Thursday. One option is to roll the bill into another piece of legislation so that it can go to a conference committee, which could expedite it for floor votes in both chambers.

Lawmakers are rushing to finish all legislative business with both the House and Senate expected to hold marathon voting sessions on Thursday. The two-year legislative session concludes by Dec. 31 and any bills that haven’t cleared both chambers must be re-introduced in the next General Assembly, which starts in January.

A $2.1 billion capital spending bill is expected to receive expedited votes in the House and Senate on Thursday.

The following bills are likely to get House floor votes on Thursday:

Senate Bill 260: A doctor would be prohibited from providing abortion-inducting drugs to a woman unless the physician is physically present when the medication is first taken. Violations could lead to felony convictions and/or medical license suspensions.

Senate Bill 68: Drivers seeking to get their licenses reinstated but are unable to pay the fees could be given the option of completing community service instead. Advocates for the bill say it’ll help low-income people avoid the “BMV cycle of death” where they lose a license, can’t pay the fees, either drive unlicensed and face more fines or lose the ability to get to work or school.

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Senate Bill 256: Offenders under age 18 could no longer be sentenced to life without parole and would be given the opportunity for parole after 18 years in prison or after 25 years for a juvenile who is serving time for one or more homicides. Prisoners who committed their offenses before age 18 would automatically be resentenced.

One bill that didn’t make the cut for a House floor vote this week is Senate Bill 3, which calls for a major overhaul of criminal drug sentencing laws to enable more people with addictions to receive drug treatment, rather than felony records. A similar drug sentencing reform package pushed by the Ohio House appears to be stalled in the Senate.

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The Senate agenda will be set Thursday morning but the following bills might be on the floor:

Senate Bill 383: Called ‘stand your ground’ by gun safety advocates, this legislation would remove the legal duty to retreat from danger in public places before using deadly force in self-defense. It mirrors House Bill 796, which is pending in the House. The bills are backed by gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association and Buckeye Firearms Association but opposed by prosecutors, police chiefs and others. Neither bill has cleared the other chamber but the provisions could be amended into another pending gun bill that is teed up for a floor vote.

House Bill 425: Current law requires Ohio’s 673,000 concealed carry weapons permitholders to promptly tell law enforcement if they have a weapon during traffic stops. The bill would loosen the notification to only if asked by an officer. It is supported by gun rights groups but opposed by the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police.

House Bill 253: This legislation would allow local governments to permit the discharge of backyard fireworks on private property on July 3, 4 or 5.

House Bill 409: The legislation would prohibit the state from giving schools report card ratings for 2020-21, free schools from holding back third-graders for not passing the state reading test this year, and allow schools to hire substitute teachers without a Bachelor’s degree for this year only.

Staff writer Jeremy Kelley contributed to this report.

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