A revived effort to end the death penalty in Ohio emerges with a potential new ally: Capitol Letter (2023)

Rotunda Rumblings

Capital punishment: While the latest attempt to pass an anti-death penalty bill has won an increasing amount of conservative support in recent years, top legislative leaders remain hesitant, if not outright opposed, to it. However, as Jeremy Pelzer reports, the bill may soon get a boost, as Ohio Right To Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, is considering throwing its weight behind a repeal.

Black gold: The coal subsidies Ohioans pay on their monthly electric bills thanks to scandal-tainted legislation are likely here to stay, Jake Zuckerman reports. Although the previous House Speaker was recently criminally convicted for racketeering in connection to his efforts to pass House Bill 6 in the first place, his successor signaled Tuesday he has no plans to repeal them.

East Palestine update: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director Anne Vogel told a House of Representatives subcommitte that cleanup of water and soil that was contaminated by a Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, should be completed within the next two months if the current pace of removal continues, Sabrina Eaton writes. “We are seeing as many as 40 to 45 trucks a day taking soil out of East Palestine this week,” Vogel told a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, & Critical Materials hearing chaired by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, the Marietta Republican who represents East Palestine in Congress.

Breaking the bank: Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate committee that oversees the nation’s banks, called for a review of bank regulators supervisory practices after a Tuesday hearing where regulators said they knew of problems at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) for years before it collapsed earlier this month, Eaton reports. U.S. Sen. JD Vance, a Cincinnati Republican, described the federal action as a “bailout,” noting that some businesses and individuals had multi-million dollar deposits at Silicon Valley Bank that would otherwise have been lost. He said he worries about “the fundamental unfairness” of drawing the line at Silicon Valley Bank.

Request denied: The Ohio Supreme Court denied Tuesday a request by East Cleveland to reconsider its order requiring the city to pay $12 million to two people who were hit by a police cruiser during a chase. East Cleveland Police Officer Todd Carroscia had joined a chase for a potential missing motorcycle when he hit a car driven by Charles Hunt, with Marilyn Conrad as a passenger, Laura Hancock reports.

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Sneak preview: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s chief elections officer, said Wednesday he supported ending August elections last year because municipalities, local school districts, local sewer districts and others scheduled August elections “to have a sneaky levy when nobody’s paying attention.” But he’s not objecting to an Aug. 8 election to make it harder to pass a constitutional amendment. “A statewide issue is a very different thing. And there will be, I can promise you, a lot of coverage, a lot of news about it,” he said Wednesday. LaRose wants the legislation related to an August election to pass 100 days before so local election boards have time to prepare. He also wants the legislature to give him $10 million to $15 million to pay for it, he said. Later Wednesday, a Senate committee held hearings on a bill to require a 60% supermajority at the ballot box, up from the current 50% plus one vote simple majority, and to schedule the Aug. 8 election, which would preempt an abortion rights constitutional amendment.

Born to run: Ohio’s 2026 gubernatorial election has another early entrant. Pelzer reports that Jeremiah Workman has launched what might be a longshot campaign in a crowded GOP primary field that is expected to include both Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Attorney General Dave Yost, among others. Workman was Joe Blystone’s running mate in his unsuccessful campaign to spoil Gov. Mike DeWine’s reelection last year.

Low bid: Local infrastructure projects are being held up by decades-old state rules for competitive bidding, USA Today Network Ohio Breau’s Anna Staver reports. So-called “force account” limits date to the 1970′s, and Staver reports that some county engineers say they are far too low. State lawmakers are trying to address the limits in the transportation budget, which must be in place by Friday.

Witness intimidation? U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a Champaign County Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday sent a letter asking IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel and Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen about an IRS visit to the residence of journalist Matthew Taibbi, the day he testified before Jordan’s committee on the Twitter files. “The circumstances surrounding the IRS’s unannounced and unprompted visit to Mr. Taibbi’s home, at the exact time that he was testifying to Congress about ‘the most serious government abuse he has witnessed in his career as a journalist, are incredible,” the letter said. “These facts demand a careful examination by the Committee to determine whether the visit was a thinly-veiled attempt to influence or intimidate a witness before Congress.”

Five Questions

Rep. Anita Somani, a Democrat from suburban Columbus, is an OB-GYN and a freshman state representative from Ohio House District 11:

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1. What are your priorities for this legislative session?

“I can’t say stop the crazies, huh, can I? I think my priorities right now are making sure that we’re funding education fairly. Public education is really critical, too. ...By not funding that, and by creating bills like the backpack bill, we’re, you know, we’re hurting a large segment of Ohio. ...There is no reason that we should be penalizing gender-affirming care. There’s no reason that we should be restricting reproductive freedom.”

2. You’re a member of the minority caucus. What are the best things that you can do to stop these proposals that that you just mentioned?

“I think being able to maybe ask the right questions, kind of point out some of the hypocrisy in the bills, you know, that may help to reduce the risk of them passing or getting out of committee.”

3. Being an OB-GYN and being a lawmaker are two very demanding jobs. How do you find a balance between those two jobs?

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“The good news is that I am at a point now where I can cut back in my clinical practice. ...I think that staying active in clinical practice will help me be a better state House representative because I actually am dealing with real issues and real problems.”

4. Is there anything that’s been surprising to you as a state lawmaker, compared to before you started serving?

“I guess I should have realized how much impact the (House) speaker has on bills that are considered for votes and things like that. I mean, some bills never see the light of day even if they’re a good bill, because the committee chair, the person in charge of the committee, isn’t going to let it go through, or the speaker doesn’t bring it to the house for a vote.”

5. What’s something that people might not know about you that perhaps they should or that’s interesting?

“I was always registered as a Republican. But I think probably within the last 10 years between reproductive rights being chipped away at, women’s rights being chipped away at, and then marginalizing minorities and gender-diverse, people that those things kind of are like -- this party doesn’t stand for what I believe in.”

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On the Move

Robert Kilo has been hired as chief advancement officer for the Center for Christian Virtue. Kilo previously served as the Ohio state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Straight From The Source

“If somebody wants to change the constitution, maybe they should go to Vinton County, maybe they should go to Meigs County, less populated places, not just gather signatures in a few counties right now. If I remember, it only needs like 14 counties.”

-Ohio Chamber of Commerce President Steve Stivers on requiring those seeking to change the state constitution to first gather signatures from all Ohio’s 88 counties and then win support from more than 60% of voters. Currently, amendments require signatures from 44 (not 14) counties and more than 5% of votes in the previous gubernatorial election.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the current signature requirement for a citizen-initiated state constitutional amendment.

Capitol Letter is a daily briefing providing succinct, timely information for those who care deeply about the decisions made by state government. If you do not already subscribe, you can sign up here to get Capitol Letter in your email box each weekday for free.

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