After GOP ‘Fixes,’ Ohio Gets a Weak Teen Dating-Violence Prevention Law

Today, a story in divided government showed that the only losers were Ohio’s students — particularly LGBT students.

In May, the Democrat-controlled Ohio House passed a bill providing for a state model policy on teen dating violence prevention, specific requirements for local school boards to adopt in their policies and inclusive definitions to ensure that all Ohio students would be protected.  In December, after the Republican-controlled Senate got their hands on it, the Governor signed a bill that contains none of that and merely requires local school boards to adopt a policy addressing teen dating violence prevention.

The house bill, passed on a 62-35 vote, was short and simple, requiring the Ohio Board of Education to “develop a model dating violence prevention policy to assist school districts in developing their own policies.”  The local school boards then, for grades seven through twelve, would have been required to then establish a dating violence prevention program, several requirements of which were provided for in the bill.

Additionally, the House bill defined “dating partner” as “any person, regardless of gender, involved in an intimate relationship with another primarily characterized by the expectation of affectionate involvement whether casual, serious, or long-term.”  It also defined “dating violence.”  This provided some very real protection for LGBT students that they otherwise would be unlikely to get if their local school districts were to define such terms themselves.

statehouse

The Ohio General Assembly

The bill then was introduced to the Republicans-controlled Senate, where it sat for months.  Finally, on November 18, with co-sponsorship by Education Committee Chair Gary Cates, a Republican, the bill was reported from the Education Committee, with the State Board provision and local requirements stripped from the bill.  What this meant was that there would be no model policy put forth by the state and that each district would devise one of its own making.  This “compromise” also led to the co-sponsorship of two other Republicans on the committee, Sens. Carey and Gibbs, however, as well as the three Democrats, Sens. Sawyer, Fedor and Morano.

Then, the bill proceeded to the Senate, where it was “recommitted” to the Education Committee on December 9.  At this point, although not clear at whose request, even the definitions were removed and the bill was re-reported out of the committee.  The bill, with no model policy, no local requirements and no definitions was then passed by the Senate on a 32-0 vote on December 16.

The House quickly concurred to the Senate’s changes on December 17 on a 74-22 vote, and the enrolled bill was sent to Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, on December 22.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland today signed the bill into law.  Although the first bill listed in the Governor’s news release, his office provided no quotation to be used by the media about the bill’s enactment and no response was given to an e-mail seeking comment from his office this evening.

It’s not really a wonder why.

* * * * *

What is confusing, however, is how the Senate Education Committee compromise couldn’t pass the Senate.  With twelve Democrats and three Republicans in committee already on board, only two more Republican votes were needed for the bill to pass.  It seems to me that Sen. Goodman’s vote could be presumed, and it’s not hard to imagine at least one other Republican going along with a bill that already had 3 Republicans on board.

At that point, the question is who got to President Harris.  Either Harris personally didn’t want the bill to come to the floor with the inclusive definitions, or someone convinced Harris to get them out.

So, which is it?  And if it wasn’t something Harris wanted personally removed, who did?  Sen. Husted, running for Secretary of State seems to be a more likely vote yes than someone fighting to rid the bill of the inclusive definitions.  If not Husted, who?  Sen. Seitz?  Coughlin?  Schuring?  Someone outside of the Senate?  Kasich?  Portman?  DeWine (Kevin or Mike)?  An organization like CCV?  [UPDATE: Also suggested is that Sen. Cates himself may have been pressured to pull the bill back to remove the inclusive definitions.]

The point is that someone or some group took an inclusive bill that had already been amended to reach a “bigger government Democrat”-”smaller government Republican” compromise.  The only purpose for recommitting the bill to the Senate Education Committee was to remove the inclusive definitions that provided much-needed protection for LGBT students.

Who wanted them gone?

[UPDATE: Thanks to Bil and the Bilerico Project folks for giving me the opportunity to cross-post this over there, helping to spread news about this new law -- and its limitations -- to their great audience.]

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.