Statehouse pushes last-minute bills

By Josh Ellerbrock -

COLUMBUS — In the final month before Ohio’s 132nd General Assembly finishes its session, the statehouse has been the scene of flurried activity to pass a series of last-minute bills. Here are just a few relevant to the region.

Heartbeat Bill

This past Thursday, the Ohio Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee, delayed action on House Bill 258, which would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Known as the Heartbeat bill, the controversial bill passed the house in mid-November, and it has since languished in the Senate as lawmakers consider several bill amendments.

Gov. John Kasich vetoed a similar bill that ended up on his desk in 2016, which ultimately quashed its passage. With the Senate’s delay, the bill has little time to pass through the procedural necessities to become law before the 132 General Assembly officially closes out its session.

The bill would make abortions illegal in Ohio after six weeks of pregnancy. Ohio’s current cut-off for abortion is roughly 20 weeks.

Rep. Keith Faber, Rep. Robert Sprague, Rep. Craig Riedel, Rep. James Hoops and Rep. Bob Cupp all voted in favor of the bill. Out of the five regional representatives, only Cupp did not co-sponsor the bill.

Firearm Bill

Originally including a stand-your-ground provision, House Bill 228 was passed by the General Assembly after the “stand-your-ground” language was stripped from the final bill.

Kasich had originally stated he would veto the bill if the “stand-your-ground” language was included in the bill. With the revisions made, it is unclear what the governor will do regarding the bill.

As it is now, the bill aligns Ohio with 49 other states that specify that prosecutors are responsible in proving that gun owners have broken the law in self-defense situations. In Ohio, gun owners are required to retreat if possible before taking action when their lives are in danger.

Other aspects of the bill change gun regulations and expands some gun rights concerning police officers, carry requirements and sale of firearms.

Infrastructure Protection

Both Sens. Matt Huffman and Rob McColley co-sponsored the recently passed Senate Bill 250 meant to “protect critical infrastructure from mischief” by increasing penalties for those who may be trespassing at places defined as critical infrastructure sites.

That includes sites such as Lima’s refinery, but the definition also includes pipelines. Opponents of the bill argue it would limit the public’s right to assemble and protest at pipelines, such as those seen in 2016 at the Dakota Access pipeline.

Language in the bill increases the fines that could be proposed for trespassing at these sites by tenfold. It also adds a prohibition that would make aggravated trespassing on such sites with the purpose to tamper with or destroy the facility a third-degree felony.

The bill passed the Ohio Senate and was introduced to the House on Thursday.

Sierah’s Law

With bipartisan support, Senate Bill 231, also known as Sierah’s law, was passed by the Ohio General Assembly this Thursday and is now headed to the governor’s office for final approval.

Named after Sierah Joughin, who was kidnapped and killed in the small town of Delta in Fulton County, the bill will create a violent offender registry database akin to the state’s sex offender database.

The 20-year-old Joughin was riding her bike home in 2016 when James Worley murdered the young woman. Investigators found her body three days after her disappearance buried in a cornfield. Worley has since been sentenced to death. No execution date has been scheduled at this time.

Legislators say the bill will help police identify violent offenders by creating a geographically searchable registry. Prior to Joughin’s death, Worley abducted another woman in 1990.

Violent offenders to be listed within the database include those convicted of “aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, abduction when it is a second degree felony, or any attempt or conspiracy to commit or complicity in committing any of the previously specified offense”, according to the bill’s summary.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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