An Ohio senator is calling for a study that examines the “progress and challenges of African Americans in Ohio.”
State Senator Sandra Williams (D-21) introduced Senate Bill 71, which would create and fund a 30-member committee to examine the contributions of, and issues facing, African Americans in the state.
The bill is timed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of African slaves to America. They arrived in 1619 on board the White Lion, a Dutch ship that landed at Point Comfort in Hampton, VA.
According to the legislation, the first thing the group would do is look at all existing studies or reports from public or private research institutions in Ohio. The bill specifically mentions the Report of the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness and the Governor’s Task Force Report on Black and Minority Health. Then they will issue an initial report including:
- The progress or lack of progress of African Americans in Ohio with respect to housing, transportation, health, education, employment, environment, business development, and any other policy area that the committee chooses to consider;
- The contributions and achievements by African Americans in Ohio; and
- Recommendations for addressing the challenges identified.
Following that initial report, the committee will take four months to hold hearings in various places across the state. It will then issue a final report.
The bill sets an aggressive schedule with the initial report due Dec. 31, 2019 and the final report by Oct. 31, 2020. Once the final report is submitted to the Senate, the committee is abolished.
Also included in the legislation is $140,000 for any costs the committee or its members may incur.
Sen. Williams expects the committee to select a “research institute” to provide staff support to the committee, rather than use any existing state department or agency.
This is the second bill submitted to the Senate to create such a committee. The first one, Senate Bill 346, was introduced in December 2018.
“Without an honest conversation about the issues and challenges African Americans disproportionately face in our state, all Ohioans risk falling further behind,” said State Representative Stephanie Howse (D-11) in December. “We won’t grow our economy or create more opportunity if a significant population of Ohioans are left to fend for themselves. Ohio succeeds when African Americans succeed.”
No action was taken on S.B. 346 since it was submitted just before the end of the last General Assembly. Sen. Williams was a co-sponsor of that measure.
So far, S.B. 71 has six co-sponsors, all Democrats, including State Senator Vernon Sykes (D-28) who also co-sponsored the original bill.
“Our state is stronger when we work together to solve problems that disproportionately impact certain segments of our population,” Sen. Sykes said when the first bill was introduced. “Too often, lawmakers hyper focus on new laws that only work in small pockets of our state but that create greater challenges for more Ohioans – especially African Americans – in the long run. By seriously examining who we are and what we’re doing as a state, we can grow jobs, strengthen healthcare and ensure all Ohioans have the tools they need for a better life.”
The bill has been assigned to the Finance Committee.
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Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to [email protected].