BY: SUSAN TEBBEN – Ohio Capital Journal
The Ohio House did not agree to Senate amendments to a bill banning trans athletes from participating in youth sports based on their gender identity, leaving behind more than a thousand pages of state education overhauls loaded in at the last minute.
House Bill 151, with language from Senate Bill 178 attached to it was voted down in the House by a 46-41 vote after 2 a.m. on Thursday morning following an entire day of hemming and hawing.
The education overhaul is not completely done yet. Even if lawmakers decline to move forward in the current General Assembly, Senate President Matt Huffman previously pledged to bring the bill back in the new year, with a General Assembly that will have an even larger GOP supermajority.
The education overhaul part of the bill, which entered the House as a standalone this week after passing the Senate last week, would have restructured the Ohio Department of Education into the Department of Education and Workforce, and reduced the state Board of Education roles down to superintendent searches, teacher conduct and licensure issues.
“The system is not working, it doesn’t prioritize our students,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport.
The department, and most of the roles currently under the state board of ed and state superintendent’s purview would have been put under the governor’s office umbrella, according to the bill.
The State Board of Education put off hiring a search firm for the next superintendent due to concerns about budgetary changes SB 178 might bring and fears the legislative uncertainty might “pollute” the marketplace of candidates.
The bill also received pushback from public school education advocates and some homeschooling groups. The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers both spoke against the bill in committee hearings, not only decrying claims that the ODE was unresponsive and inaccessible, but also criticizing the pace at which the bill came through the General Assembly.
SB 178 sponsor state Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, said attempts to redo the state agencies have been years in the making and urgency is needed to help improve student success.
“I’m not looking at growing an organization; I’m looking at making it more efficient and more structurally purposeful,” Reineke said on Tuesday as he defended his bill in House Primary and Secondary Education Committee.
It was up to that committee to pass the standalone bill over to the House for a full vote, something that didn’t happen in a Tuesday night committee that went until about 9 p.m., or a Wednesday morning meeting that recessed before the House’s session began, and didn’t return even after multiple recesses in that body.
When committee chair state Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, was asked the status of the bill or the committee at about 9 p.m. Wednesday night, she said she was waiting to see what the GOP caucus was thinking on the matter.
Amidst the day-long discussion, the Senate decided to take matters into its own hands, inserting SB 178 into HB 151, originally meant to be a teacher mentorship bill that was made to include a ban on athletes competing on teams based on their gender identity.
The Senate also tried to slide in language from a bill that would have banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for K-12 students.
After the additions, HB 151 passed on a party-line 23-7 vote in that chamber, moving it back to the House.
The controversial part of HB 151 was added in another late-night move in June, when HB 151 was up for passage in the House before moving on to the Senate. The trans athletes part of the bill no longer includes a requirement for genital inspections of children suspected of being transgender, something Senate President Matt Huffman previously said he wouldn’t support.
Verification of a student’s gender will be done using a birth certificate in the new version of the bill.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, wouldn’t speak on the trans athletes part of the bill when he introduced the bill in the Senate, but on the House floor he stood in support of it.
“This bill only applies to K-12 education, so our daughters in grades kindergarten through 12 will not have to compete with biological males in primary and secondary schools,” Jones said.
The bill would impact very few Ohio students and policies are already in place to keep equality in youth sports, causing LGBTQ advocates, education leaders and the Ohio High School Athletic Association to stand against the bill as unnecessary.
The original language of the bill would make changes to the Ohio Teacher Residency Program and teacher mentorship.
Democrats pushed hard for the House not to support the bill as amended, saying stakeholders needed to be involved and more time was needed to find out the impact of it.
State Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, continued an argument made by critics of the bill that the volume of the bill didn’t get the proper review by legislators or individuals in Ohio education.
“Passing something at 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock in the morning that no one’s read and no one’s seen … is not the way to change education in the state of Ohio,” Robinson said.
State Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma, said the bill was “moving deck chairs on a sinking ship” by addressing issues that don’t solve the true problems in Ohio education.
State Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, said the bill would impact economic success in Ohio by making conferences question coming to the state and businesses wonder whether or not to bring employees to the state. She also said passage of the bill in the middle of the night would send a message to current Ohio voters as well.
“We’re telling Ohioans who elected us that they can’t be seen in this process,” Brent said.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.
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