COLUMBUS, Ohio – The legislative calendar in the Ohio House contained four bills Wednesday, all of which passed. However, two bills revealed a clear, partisan split. One of those required screening for tuberculosis in childcare and preschool workers; the other supports student religious expression in public schools.
State Representative Tim Ginter (R-Salem) sponsored House Bill 164, the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019.”
Only two Democrats voted in favor of the legislation that, “Authorizes students enrolled in public schools to engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent that a student may engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours.” Those two members were Representatives Gil Blair (D-Weathersfield) and Michael O’Brien (D-Warren).
HB 164: “Requires public schools to give students who wish to meet for the purpose of religious expression the same access to school facilities given to secular student groups, without regard to the content of the expression.” And it, “Removes a current provision that permits a school district to limit the exercise or expression of religion to lunch periods or other noninstructional time periods.”
The bill further says: “Prohibits public schools from restricting a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other assignments. Prohibits public schools from rewarding or penalizing a student based on the religious content of the student’s homework, artwork, or other assignments.”
“This bill has been accused of expanding religious liberties. However, language within this bill specifically addresses this falsehood, and I quote, ‘Nothing in this act is intended or shall be construed to limit or abrogate religious expression of students already guaranteed under the Ohio Constitution and the United States Constitution’,” Ginter emphasized.
“This bill is not an expansion but rather a clarification of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution,” he explained.
Democrats’ opposition included the claim that the establishment clause in the Constitution limits religious speech and, at the same time, that the Constitution already protects students’ religious speech.
House Bill 210 is the other bill that faced pushback from the Democrat minority. The purpose of the bill sponsored by Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), “Requires licensed preschool programs and child day-care centers to screen prospective employees for tuberculosis [TB].” It targets would-be employees who recently resided in countries where the risk for TB is high.
Carruthers explained that a Hamilton County daycare was stuck with a $40,000 healthcare bill when one of their employees tested positive for the disease.
The problem with the bill to the minority party appeared to be a concern for immigrants and what they viewed as an unfair impediment to immigrants participating in work. The Columbus Department of Public Health shared their opposition with some of the committee members. The city department’s opposition came in spite of the fact the majority of TB cases were found in Franklin county. All Democrats voted against HB 210 after failing to amend or re-refer it.
Unanimous support was given to House Bill 272, which would, “…expand the basis of a court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction to include any basis consistent with the Ohio Constitution and the United States Constitution.”
Representative Scott Oelslager said of HB 272, “This is a bill only a lawyer would love.”
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