Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today joined Dem lawmakers to urge House Republican leaders to call the chamber back into session to address several critical issues facing the state, including health and the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, systemic racism and police brutality, questions surrounding the November election, and looming state budget shortfalls.
“At a time when Ohio needs leaders most, Republicans decided to skip town for a summer break. We’re facing unprecedented health and economic crises, massive unemployment, a budget shortfall, and unanswered calls for racial justice. A lot of these ideas, especially for police reform—they’re not new. We need to get to work to get them passed,” said Leader Sykes. “We’re urging Republican leaders to call us back into session so we can do the job taxpayers sent us here to do. These crises aren’t taking a recess and neither should we.”
The House is not expected to return to session for the remainder of the summer.
Democrats highlighted several coronavirus-related bills they say need immediate attention, including efforts to halt evictions and prohibit utility shutoffs. As July 1 quickly approaches, many Ohioans are worried about their ability to pay rent and utilities, and face eviction or utility shutoffs if the legislature does not act.
“If missing a shift at work to go to the doctor means you will be evicted, or have your utilities shut off – people wait until they absolutely have to to seek care, and that can have devastating effects on health,” said Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin). “We need to be at the Statehouse fast-tracking commonsense legislation to allow Ohioans to get back on their feet and have the protections they need to get through this unprecedented crisis.”
House Democrats have introduced several bills to protect Ohio workers’ health and financial security since the onset of the pandemic:
- HB 571 (Boggs) – Allows for workers compensation coverage for COVID-19 for first responders;
- HB 573 (Sobecki, Boggs) – Allows for workers compensation coverage for COVID-19 for individuals required to work outside of the home;
- HB 593 (Boyd, Boggs) – Provides paid leave to quarantined workers;
- HB 605 (Kelly, Patton) – Allows for workers compensation coverage for COVID-19 for grocery store and food processing workers;
- HB 633 (Boggs) – Allows for workers compensation coverage for COVID-19 for workers in nursing homes, residential care facilities and health care facilities;
Democratic lawmakers were also able to secure a significant bipartisan win for Ohio’s workers when Gov. Mike DeWine implemented key provisions of the Worker Protection Act, sponsored by Reps. Leland and Sobecki, in an executive order last week. The new order dictates that unemployed Ohioans who are over 65 or considered “high risk” will remain eligible for unemployment even if asked to return to work by their employer.
“This is a bipartisan win for Ohio’s workers,” said Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus). “Protecting vulnerable Ohioans isn’t a partisan issue – it’s just the right thing to do. No one should have to choose between their life and their livelihood.”
Additionally, Democrats discussed the need for immediate action on police reforms, racial justice and promoting priorities they say would build up Black families, including passage of a resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis and a number of police reform bills the caucus plans to introduce in the coming days.
Democrats are currently drafting legislation that would incorporate the Eight Can’t Wait use-of-force campaign proposals into Ohio law, and several other measures, including:
- Prohibiting law enforcement from targeting people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, gender identity or sexual orientation;
- Prohibiting the use of quotas (arrests, stops, citations) by law enforcement;
- Requiring all officer-involved shootings and other officer misconduct be independently investigated;
- Requiring the AG to create a database tracking all officer-involved shootings and other excessive uses of force;
- Requiring the AG to create a database tracking officers who have been fired or who have resigned rather than being fired;
- Requiring visible and easily traceable police identification;
- Prohibiting the use of tear gas;
- Creating Crisis Intervention Teams to respond to mental health situations;
- Banning chokeholds;
- Requiring mental health training;
- And requiring more conditions on juvenile interrogations.
“Racism is a public health crisis, and until we acknowledge the systemic racism present in our state and nation, we will never be able to engage in real, meaningful change,” said Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “Racism doesn’t take a recess, and neither should the Ohio House. From our resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, to working on police reform and keeping our constituents safe from the ongoing pandemic, there is a lot of work to tackle this summer to ensure that everyone, regardless of their race, can achieve the Ohio Promise.”
Other unfinished business highlighted by House Democrats includes a plan for the November election following the chaos and confusion of the primary earlier this year. Dems introduced HB 687, which would expand online registration, make it easier for Ohioans to vote by mail, and protect safe, accessible in-person voting opportunities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“HB 680 doesn’t do enough to ensure a safe, accessible election, and with balloting set to begin in a few short months, we need to act now,” Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) said. “We’re faced with unprecedented crises. The last thing we should do is take a summer recess. I’m urging my colleagues across the aisle to join our call to get to work on these pressing needs for all Ohioans.”
Democrats Wednesday also announced the Ohio Promise Virtual Town Hall Tour, a follow-up to more than 25 in-person events Democratic lawmakers held in the summer of 2019. The digital events will allow constituents to hear from lawmakers, ask questions and offer input on ways to address the issues facing their communities.
“The issues facing Ohioans are big, there’s no doubt about it,” Leader Sykes said. “And while we’re urging the Speaker and Republican leadership to call us back to the Statehouse, we still want to hear directly from our constituents so that we can bring their concerns with us to inform our work on these critical issues.”