The Ohio House of Representatives and Senate concluded the 134th General Assembly after marathon sessions - some say the longest they’ve seen in decades - before Christmas. During this period, several key bills were passed and sent to Governor DeWine’s desk. Farewells were said to many legislators as a result of retirements, term limits, and election losses and to agency heads who opted to retire at the end of the year. The opening of the 135th General Assembly led to dramatic results in the Ohio House during the election of the new Speaker, and the ripple effects continue. As Governor DeWine enters what is likely to be his last four years of public service, his inaugural events were a celebration of service and Ohio. The Senate intends to start committee meetings soon, but the House is still working out committee assignments. By the end of January, we should see the 135th General Assembly in full swing and ready to start the process for the State Operating Budget which will be its main focus through June.
G2G at Opening Receptions
G2G attended many receptions for the opening of the 135th General Assembly as well as Governor DeWine’s Inaugural events. We had the opportunity to speak with many legislators in leadership including Governor DeWine, Lt. Governor Husted, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), and new Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) as well as Agency leaders such as Ohio Department of Budget and Management Director Kim Murnieks and Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik. We appreciated the opportunity to connect with many of the Representatives and Senators we have worked with for years such as Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), House Speaker Pro Tempore Scott Oelslager (R- North Canton), Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), just to name a few. We also welcomed and met many new members with whom we are excited to work in the future.
House of Representatives Leadership
The official vote for the Ohio Speaker of the House led to unexpected results on Opening Day of the 135th General Assembly. In a closed-door meeting at the end of December, House Republicans elected Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township) to serve a Speaker of the Ohio House. Merrin elected his leadership team and began movement into his role as speaker. However, in the official vote, Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) won the speaker vote with 54 votes, while Merrin received 43 votes. All 32 House Democrats voted for Stephens - key votes that won him the Speakership - as well as 22 of his Republican colleagues. Merrin’s 43 votes were from the remaining House Republicans. Leadership for the Ohio House is as follows at this time:
- Speaker of the House — Jason Stephens (R-Kitts-Hill)
- Speaker Pro Tempore —Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton)
- Majority Floor Leader — Bill Seitz (R- Cincinnati)*
- Assistant Majority Floor Leader — Jon Cross (R- Kenton)*
- Majority Whip — Jim Hoops (R- Napoleon)*
- Assistant Majority Whip — Sharon Ray (R- Wadsworth)*
*Not yet confirmed by the full House
- Minority Leader — Allison Russo (D-Columbus)
- Assistant Minority Leader — Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus)
- Minority Whip — Jessica E. Miranda (D-Cincinnati)
- Assistant Minority Whip — Tavia Galonski (D-Akron)
“Republican Majority Caucus”
Merrin is not going down without a fight. In the week following the Speaker vote, Merrin and 37 representatives of what's being called the “Republican Majority Caucus” met behind closed doors for 90 minutes. The group discussed ideas for House rules, redistricting, "working with the Republican-led Senate," and a plan to make it harder to amend Ohio's state constitution. The group, which Merrin says includes all 45 members who didn't vote for Stephens, is still figuring out how they're going to operate but they have some concrete ideas about what they want. The caucus has stated they plan to do everything in their power to pass conservative policies like the backpack bill that would make all Ohio schoolchildren eligible for an EdChoice voucher. This is a very different scenario for the Ohio House, which will likely divide the chamber into three sections, making committee and floor votes more challenging.
The Ohio Senate also elected their majority and minority leadership teams for the 135th General Assembly. Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) retained his role as senate president, and new Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) was elected, both in unanimous votes. Minority Leader Antonio has already made history in her new position as being the first openly LGBTQ individual to serve in that capacity in Ohio.
- Senate President —Matt Huffman (R-Lima)
- President Pro Tempore —Kirk Schuring (R-Canton)
- Majority Floor Leader —Rob McColley (R-Napoleon)
- Majority Whip — Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green)
- Minority Leader — Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood)
- Assistant Minority Leader — Hearcel F. Craig (D-Columbus)
- Minority Whip — Kent Smith (D-Euclid)
- Assistant Minority Whip — Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo)
The Senate has already assigned committees for the 135th General Assembly. President Huffman announced he attempted to keep the chairs of Senate committees the same as they were in the 134th General Assembly. In addition, the Ohio Senate will also have two new committees for the 135th General Assembly. The two new committees will be a committee focused on Medicaid to be chaired by Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario), and a committee focused on community revitalization to be chaired by Sen. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott).
Leadership for Senate Committees of interest are as follows:
- Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Chair: Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Al Landis (R-Dover)
- Ranking Member: Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo)
- Chair: Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Sandra O’Brien (R-Ashtabula)
- Ranking Member: Sen. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati)
- Chair: Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland)
- Ranking Member: Sen. Vernon Sykes (D- Akron)
- Chair: Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City)
- Vice Chair: Sen. Terry Johnson (R- McDermott)
- Ranking Member: Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood)
Ohio Department of Education Overhaul
Ohio Senate Republicans have re-introduced as Senate Bill 1 their legislation to overhaul the Ohio Department of Education and State Board of Education. The bill moved through the Senate in the last GA but stalled in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Senate Bill 1 will receive its first hearing in the 135th General Assembly in the first week of committees. This legislation would rename the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) as the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), allow the governor to select the director of this department, and transfers most of the powers and responsibilities of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to DEW. As this has been redrafted from the previous General Assembly, Sen. Brenner noted the bill will include everything proposed in the lame duck session except for the provisions regarding transgender students’ participation in school sports and any language about vaccine mandates.
Ohio EXECUTIVE OFFICE
Governor DeWine signed several bills into law following the end of lame duck and the 134th General Assembly:
- House Bill 45
- Includes ARPA allocations and State Fiscal Recovery Funds toward several departments and initiatives such as:
- $30 million to county Job and Family Service offices to conduct Medicaid eligibility redeterminations
- $90 million to Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services for crisis care infrastructure investments
- $25 million for workforce housing
- Change Step Up to Quality star rating requirements
- Expand the Program of All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly (PACE) to six additional counties
- House Bill 281
- Updates terminology in the Ohio Revised Code to reduce stigma regarding people with mental illnesses and disabilities by replacing old, outdated terms with more contemporary alternatives
- House Bill 343
- Ensures crime victims are treated fairly and can exercise their rights in the criminal justice system by allowing crime victims’ representatives to exercise victims’ legal rights - not just the victims themselves, expands the ability to testify by deposition or recording instead of in-person appearance, and adds workplace protections for victims, along with keeping their identifying information private
- House Bill 458
- Requires a photo ID to vote in Ohio, eliminates early voting hours the Monday before elections, shortens the timeframe that absentee ballots can be returned, restricts county Boards of Elections to only have one outdoor drop box per county for after-hours absentee ballot drop-off, and eliminates August special elections unless it involves a political subdivision or school district experiencing a state of fiscal emergency.
- Includes ARPA allocations and State Fiscal Recovery Funds toward several departments and initiatives such as:
Executive Orders Issued
Governor DeWine issued an executive order that expands state government antidiscrimination safeguards to mothers who are nursing. This executive order requires state agencies provide nursing employees time and a designated private space where they may attend to any breastfeeding needs. DeWine also signed an executive order to create the Ohio Mental Health Insurance Office as part of the Ohio Department of Insurance. The purpose of this executive order is to develop the best practices possible for providing mental health and addiction insurance benefits. This new office will perform many tasks including helping Ohioans to identify and utilize insurance benefits for mental health purposes and working with employers, insurers, healthcare providers, and advocacy organizations to develop the best practices for providing mental health and addiction insurance benefits.
New Department Directors
Anne Vogel will become the new Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Vogel will replace former director, Laurie A. Stevenson, who retired at the end of 2022. Vogel was previously the Policy Director for Governor DeWine during his first term. In this role, she was tasked with implementing the H2Ohio initiative, which helps improve the quality of water across Ohio and expands access to clean drinking water for Ohioans.
Representative Brian Baldridge has been nominated by Gov. DeWine as the new Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Baldridge is currently a State Representative for the 90th Ohio House District which encompasses all of Adams and Scioto counties and parts of Brown County. He and his family operate Baldridge Farms, which has both livestock and crop production and has farmed in Ohio for seven generations. His appointment will need approval from the Ohio Senate likely to happen this week.
G2G staff was present on Capitol Hill on January 3rd for the swearing in events and meetings with a variety of Members of Congress and their staff. We visited with a total of 31 offices including the Appropriations Committee Chair and Ranking Member and key leaders on a variety of issues across the health, defense and transportation policy spaces. We met with many Ohio members as well including the new members of the delegation: Reps. Emilia Sykes, Max Miller, and Greg Landsman and Sen. J.D. Vance.
Congress is slowly making committee appointments and we are closely monitoring this. Some notable appointments of Ohio members include:
- Warren Davidson has been named chair of the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance
- Dave Joyce will chair the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee
- Mike Carey has joined the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax policy