COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Black Democratic lawmakers made emotional appeals to colleagues in the GOP-led Ohio House for help in addressing racism as a session ended Thursday.
The House had wrapped up its business on votes regarding elections and fireworks legislation when Rep. Stephanie Howse rose to address the chamber. The Cleveland Democrat, who is black, made reference to George Floyd’s death, which launched protests across the U.S. and pushed police violence against black people to the front of the national consciousness.
“I’m just going to implore you all to have some conversations,” said Howse, who spoke as a protest continued outside the Statehouse itself. Floyd’s death, after a police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes, “represents literally hundreds of black men and women who were taken too quickly from this world,” she added.
Rep. Thomas West, a black Democrat from northeastern Ohio, asked fellow lawmakers to stand with him and others. “Let’s address this issue of racism once and for all,” West said.
Republican lawmakers thanked Howe and West for their remarks, among them Republican Reps. Haraz Ghanbari, a Republican from northwestern Ohio, and Jay Edwards, from Nelsonville in southeastern Ohio, both white.
“We hear you. We do hear you,” Edwards said.
In his own response, House Speaker Larry Householder said the House and its legislative process was the place to fix the issues raised by Howse and West
“If we’re ever going to get to the root and solve these problems, here is the place to do it,” said Householder, a Republican from southeastern Ohio who is also white. Later, Householder expressed support for the intention behind a resolution brought by black lawmakers to declare racism a public health crisis — which they hope will allow it to be addressed — but he didn’t directly say whether Republicans would back it.
“The vast, vast majority of members in this body want to solve these problems,” he said. “We have to start a dialogue and a discussion about how we solve them.”
Earlier in the session, the House approved a bill that would bar “public officials from changing the time, place, or manner in which an election takes place,” a measure that addresses frustration over actions by Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose that postponed the March 17 primary at the 11th hour over fears of spreading the coronavirus.
The bill also set the deadline for voters to request mail-in ballots at seven days before the election. The measure goes next to the Senate.
Also Thursday, the House approved a bill eliminating a law that is widely ignored in the state: the requirement that fireworks purchased in Ohio must be set off outside the state. The measure, which would permit them to be used in the state, also goes next to the Senate.
The House put off a vote on a “stand-your-ground” law that would allow gun owners to use deadly force without having to back away first when they perceive a threat. Householder said members of the House Criminal Justice Committee wanted more time to work on the legislation.