Ohio legislation

DeWine vetoes law prohibiting local tobacco bans

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed legislation Thursday that would’ve preempted local bans on flavored tobacco (Source: “Ohio Gov. DeWine vetoes tobacco measure that would prohibit local bans,” Ohio Capital Journal, Jan. 6).

“This measure is not — is not in the public interest,” DeWine said of HB 513.

Because a new General Assembly has begun, DeWine’s office contends lawmakers can’t initiate a veto override.

Speaking Thursday, DeWine acknowledged the merit of uniform statewide policy. “The easiest way to do that, it seems to me, is to have a statewide ban of flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping,” DeWine said.

State health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff noted Ohio’s rates of tobacco use are higher than national averages, and tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in the state. According to Vanderhoff, deaths attributable to tobacco use top 20,000 a year. And treating tobacco-related illness isn’t cheap. According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, he said, health care costs tied to cigarettes are about $6.8 billion a year.


Ohio House votes to legalize fentanyl test strips

The Ohio House passed legislation Wednesday that would legalize the possession of test strips used to identify the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs (Source: “Ohio House votes to decriminalize fentanyl test strips,” Nov. 30).

The policy is aimed at expanding access to the strips, a harm-reduction approach designed to reduce the near-record level of Ohioans who fatally overdose on opioids year over year.

For the last several years, experts have warned that fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid – has entered the drug supply and is driving increasing rates of fatal overdoses. It’s often present in drugs without the user’s knowledge. The test strips are a cheap (they cost roughly $1) means of ensuring people know what they’re taking. Current Ohio law, however, classifies them as “drug paraphernalia.” Possession of them can yield a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

The legislation passed in the House with just four votes in opposition. It now heads to the state Senate, which has been considering similar legislation.

Improving access to fentanyl test strips is one aspect of harm reduction, a public health strategy aimed at decreasing risks surrounding drug use as opposed to an abstinence-only approach. Other strategies, outlined in an HPIO policy brief last year, include increasing access to naloxone (an overdose reversal drug); expanding syringe exchange programs, which reduce risk of bloodborne diseases; and improving Good Samaritan laws, which provide legal shields to those who help people overdosing seek access to emergency care.


Ohio bill aims to boost mental health workforce

As the demand for mental health services grows — and with many psychologists aging and near retirement — Ohio lawmakers are sponsoring a bill aimed at increasing the number of mental health care providers (Source: “Ohio lawmakers propose a new way to increase the number of mental health providers,” Statehouse News Bureau, Oct. 13).

State Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said her bill would create more access to mental health professionals by allowing colleges to offer specialized master's degrees.

"It creates a new licensed professional in the state of Ohio who has the ability to prescribe and work under the supervision of a medical professional and just creates greater access for individuals in need of mental health services," Gavarone said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Ohio estimates one in five people experience mental illness each year. Many times, people who need help for a mental health problem cannot get in to see a provider because there aren’t enough of them. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services shows between 2013 and 2019, there was a 353% increase in demand for mental health services.

Gavarone said she doesn’t expect this bill to be taken up before the end of this year but added she wants lawmakers to start considering the proposal soon.


Ohio House approves Medicaid coverage of doulas in attempt to address racial disparities

A bill that is aiming to combat racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates passed the Ohio House during a session Wednesday (Source: “Doula services could soon be covered by Medicaid after racial equity bill passes Ohio House,” Ohio Capital Journal, June 9).

House Bill 142 would provide Medicaid coverage for licensed doula services.

Between 2008 and 2017, Black women died during birth about two and a half times more than white women, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Black women also have twice the amount of birth complications, which ODH data show cannot be attributed to factors such as the pregnant person’s income, education, marital status, tobacco/ alcohol use and insurance coverage.

Doulas “can save lives,” said Dorian Wingard, partner and COO of Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT), an organization dedicated to addressing the needs of women of color. “They can prevent the death of mothers, they can prevent the death of children.”

Doula services can also result in lower rates of preterm births, as well as help save money for families, according to Wingard.

Republican state Rep. Tom Brinkman, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he convinced his fellow Republicans to vote for the bill by explaining that it could allow Ohio to save money, since doula services lead to fewer preterm births, which are expensive for the state.

“The hardest thing was to talk to my colleagues and say, ‘look, we are going to expand Medicaid, which we don’t necessarily want to do because we’re trying to restrain costs, but what it’s going to do is result in overall savings because we won’t be paying for [as many complications],” Brinkman said.


Ohio Senate President won’t bring cannabis legalization bill to the floor

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said this week that he doesn't support an effort to legalize cannabis and won't bring it to a vote in his chamber (Source: “Proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio faces yet another roadblock in Senate GOP leader,” Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 9).

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol recently submitted enough valid signatures for Ohio lawmakers to consider its proposal, which would allow Ohioans age 21 and older to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of concentrates. They could also grow up to six plants individually and no more than 12 in a household with multiple adults.

If lawmakers don't pass the bill or pass an amended version within the next four months, supporters can collect another 132,887 valid signatures to put their measure on the ballot. "I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it."

Gov. Mike DeWine already said he would veto a bill to legalize marijuana in Ohio, calling the idea "a mistake." 

HPIO recently released a fact sheet examining lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol control policies that could inform future cannabis regulation in Ohio.


State lawmakers begin revisiting vaccine exemption bill

State lawmakers this week listened to public testimony for the first time on a fast-tracked bill to limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates and expand exemptions, after the bill failed to get enough support in the Ohio House (Source: “COVID-19 vaccine exemption bill gets another look from Ohio lawmakers,” Akron Beacon-Journal, Oct. 6).

Hearings on Wednesday and Thursday were "informal hearings," said Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, House Commerce and Labor Committee chairman, only to determine "the line between personal freedom and companies' rights... and where that lies."

Republican leadership tried to rush House Bill 435 and pass it out quickly last week, but the speedy timeline resulted in pushback. Legislators are now taking more time to revisit the bill's details.


Ohio House leaders send vaccine bill back to drawing board

The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill supported by its Republican leaders that would allow businesses to mandate coronavirus vaccines, yet would also allow broad exemptions for employees to avoid getting shots (Source: “Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp announces his coronavirus vaccine bill is back to drawing board,” Cleveland.com, Sept. 30).

After it faced opposition from business and medical organizations, Democrats and some Republicans, House Bill 435 was sent back to the Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee, where more work will be done, said Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican.

Under HB 435, as currently written, public and private employees, as well as public and private K-12 and college students could be subject to coronavirus vaccine mandates. However, they could be exempted for medical reasons, for demonstrating natural immunity to the coronavirus and for religious reasons and reasons of conscience. The religious exemption is broad, as it would only require a statement by the believer and not a letter from clergy.


More than half of states have rolled back public health powers, analysis finds

Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, including Ohio, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases (Source: “Over Half of States Have Rolled Back Public Health Powers in Pandemic,” Kaiser Health News, Sept. 15).

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In at least 16 states, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, or quarantines or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or local elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious disease. At least 17 states passed laws banning covid vaccine mandates or passports, or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements. At least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.


DeWine signs bill banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements at public schools, universities

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill this week that will prevent public schools and universities from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff until they receive full approval from federal officials (Source: “Gov. DeWine signs bill to ban requiring COVID-19 vaccine at Ohio public schools, universities,” Columbus Dispatch, July 14).

Language added to House Bill 244 will prevent schools and universities from requiring vaccines that haven't received full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. All three COVID-19 vaccines were approved under emergency use authorization, a rigorous protocol that includes clinical trials. 

The new law doesn't take effect for 90 days, and the vaccines might receive full FDA approval in that window, making the language moot.

"We are confident the three main COVID vaccines – the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – will receive full FDA approval," said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney, adding that the full approval will help reduce vaccine hesitancy.

The bill doesn't apply to private universities or the hospitals connected to public universities. Several private universities and colleges, such as Kenyon College and Ohio Wesleyan University, will require students to be vaccinated. Some have exceptions for religious or medical reasons. 


Ohio Senate considers bill to ease penalties, increase treatment for low-level drug possession

The Ohio Senate is considering landmark legislation that would lessen the penalties for low-level drug possession charges and increase options for addiction treatment instead of criminal convictions (Source: ”Lawmakers may ease penalties, increase treatment for drug possession,” Dayton Daily News, June 24, 2020).

Senate Bill 3 calls for reducing low-level, non-violent drug possession charges to misdemeanors, down from felonies. Drug trafficking offenses would remain felonies. The legislation also calls for allowing judges to put a criminal possession case on hold while the defendant goes through court-ordered treatment and then dismiss the case if treatment is successfully completed.

The bill would also expand circumstances in which someone may apply to have their criminal records sealed. Criminal records often make it more difficult to get hired.

Late last year, HPIO released  "Ohio Addiction Policy Inventory and Scorecard: Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System," the third in a series of inventories and scorecards analyzing Ohio's policy response to the addiction crisis and outlining areas where the state could be more effective. The new report provides policymakers and other stakeholders with the information needed to take stock of Ohio's policy response to addiction within the law enforcement and criminal justice sectors.