COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – There is a process at the state legislature that governs how bills become acts. Most of the time it’s an ironclad set of steps, but every once in a while exceptions are made.
One of those times was Wednesday when an anti-abortion bill went before the Ohio House Health Committee.
The bill was SB 164; introduced by State Senator LaRose, it seeks to ban abortions after a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is made.
This Senate bill has an identical twin that has made its way through the House of Representatives; HB 241, introduced by State Representatives LaTourette and Merrin.
Having a companion bill, even an identical twin bill, is not uncommon here at the statehouse.When legislation can be worked on by both chambers at the same time it can help speed up the process of identifying things that need to be adjusted in the bills from technical alterations, like typos, to more complicated issues that require amendments to be made.
Both of the bills we are talking about right now made it through their committees unscathed and without alteration, and thus have remained identical through being voted out of their respective chambers.
Normally, when a bill comes out of either the Senate or the House chamber, it is put through the committee process in the other chamber so that lawmakers there can also go over the legislation looking for any issues or problems that might cause the bill to be unconstitutional or have unintended consequences.
When SB 164 was assigned to the House Health Committee, some people thought that process was going to play out as usual. Why wouldn’t it, right? Well, here’s the thing; SB 164 and HB241 are not your typical pieces of legislation, to begin with. They are controversial in nature because of the content they seek to address, abortion. The topic also happens to be quiet polarizing across the political spectrum, and most members of a particular party are almost required to hold a correlating stance on it or risk the ire of their fellows.
So lawmakers are left to consider, why sit through committee hearings and listen to a bunch of people you simply do not agree with when you can skip those steps and go right to the end of the process? In this case, skipping to the end of the process happened for a number of reasons.
First, the bills are identical. With nothing new to discuss coming out of the Senate bill, there is no reason to discuss the matter anymore, according to Chairman of the Health Committee Stephen Huffman. Then there is the point that no matter how much discussion is had, opponents of the bill are not changing the minds of supporters of the bill.
In this case, the supporters of the bill happen to be the party that controls the legislature right now, the GOP. Because of how the past few elections have turned out, Republicans have such a numbers advantage they do not need any help from Democrats to pass legislation out of either chamber. They can do, virtually, whatever they want. If they wanted to pass 50 abortion bills, they could. But they won’t.
As in past general assemblies, a few will be passed that push the boundaries of constitutionality; but carefully. That is why we saw the Heartbeat Bill get vetoed by Governor Kasich last year, and 17 others over the past six years have been approved.
Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Jaime Miracle was at the committee meeting Wednesday when the Down Syndrome bill was fast-tracked. She was disappointed with the decision to do so.
“I think we’d like to see our democracy work and people’s voices be heard; this is the people’s house,” said Miracle.
“People had opportunities before to speak about the bill,” said Huffman. “We have a lot of important things we are doing in the health committee, and as chairman appointed by the Speaker, I felt that was the best way to handle it.”
Huffman also points out that, in his mind, further testimony on the Down Syndrome bill or the Heartbeat bill are pointless.
“I personally do not think that testimony is going to sway any vote. I believe in this committee, there are some deep-seated opinions on how they’re going to vote on these issues and it’s not going to change,” said Huffman.
That’s why he is planning to put the Heartbeat bill up for a vote in committee next week. He is certain the will of the committee is to pass the legislation through to the House chamber where it will be up to the Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger to decide if and when that bill gets a floor vote.
Meanwhile, Speaker Rosenberger could put the Down Syndrome bill up for a vote as soon as next week. If it passes the House, it would be headed to Governor Kasich for his signature.
The whole process from being passed out of the Senate to being passed out of the House could turn out to take less than a month.
Few pieces of legislation move that quickly here at that Statehouse.