Ohio Senate Committee debating bills on voter rights and gun safety, probably week of Aug. 3

Voting rights and gun safety are priority issues for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Southern Ohio, supported by multiple resolutions passed by General and Diocesan Conventions. (https://episcopaliansinconnection.org/voting-rights/) Three bills –  two affecting voting rights and one about arming school employees – are all being debated in the same committee of the Ohio Senate, probably as early as the week of August 3. We provide an overview of each here, their impact, suggested amendments, and contact information for the members of that committee and your own senator.  Constituent phone calls get legislators’ attention and are counted. Be sure to state where you are from and why the issue matters to you personally.

Absentee voting in the time of pandemic

Requesting an absentee ballot is time-consuming. The voter must download an application, drop it off or mail it in, wait for the ballot to arrive by mail, and either mail the completed ballot back or drop it off at the county’s Board of Election office or authorized secure drop box. Throughout the primary season in 2020, many American voters were disenfranchised by mailing delays or minor mistakes in completing forms.

The points below are designed to make absentee voting easier and more affordable, so as to reduce the risk from in-person voting in 2020. People should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote.

HB 680 currently forbids the Secretary of State from providing prepaid postage on either absentee ballots or absentee ballot applications. It also shortens the time to request an absentee ballot from three days before the election to seven days. Here is the analysis by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission:
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/download?key=14223&format=pdf

These two provisions create financial and logistical barriers to voting that will disproportionately affect elderly, medically high-risk, or low-income people. If the bill passes the Senate as written in August, it could become law before the general election.

Please consider asking the Senate to make the following amendments to HB 680

  • Include prepaid postage on absentee ballot applications and ballots
  • Allow voters to apply online for absentee ballots
  • Provide multiple, secure, convenient ballot drop boxes in each county to receive absentee ballots

SB 191 authorizes voters to submit an absentee ballot request online, saving time and postage. The Secretary of State has gone on record supporting this idea. Here is the bill analysis by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission: https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/download?key=12390&format=pdf

The following amendments would make the bill even more effective in protecting public health during the pandemic AND making it easier for all eligible voters to cast a vote:

  • Provide prepaid postage and self-sealing envelope for all absentee ballot requests and ballots
  • Accept all absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day
  • Refrain from discarding absentee ballots on the basis of errors or technicalities
  • Permit more than one early vote center and secure drop box per county

Guns in Schools

SB 317 explicitly exempts Ohio school districts from current State law which prohibits school staff from carrying lethal weapons on school grounds unless the person has completed approved basic peace officer training (over 700 hours) or has completed at least 20 years as a peace officer.  This bill would enable districts to arm teachers and staff with no or minimal firearms training. SB 317 expressly overrules an appellate court decision that the Madison County Local Schools was violating state law by authorizing “volunteers” who had completed only 24 hours of training to carry concealed firearms on school grounds. That decision is currently being appealed by the school district to the Ohio Supreme Court. Here is the bill analysis prepared by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission:  https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/download?key=13914&format=pdf

Please consider asking the Committee to vote the bill down altogether. Here are some talking points for your email or phone call:

  • Introducing more guns into schools increases the risk of students being shot
  • Even highly trained police confirm that their ability to shoot accurately decreases significantly during gunfights with perpetrators.
  • The risk of being shot by school staff is greatest for students of color
  • School shooters in the US have all exhibited warning signs before the attack.
  • Red flag laws to disarm people who show a risk to themselves or others would do far more to keep students safe than introducing more guns into schools.

Find your senator here: https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislators/district-maps. To email your senator, type his or her last name, followed by @ohiosenate.gov

Here are the phone numbers of the members of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee. Phone calls from constituents are counted, and have real impact!

Bill Coley, Chair 614-466-8072
Matt Huffman, Co-Chair 614-466-7584
Hearcel Craig, Ranking Minority Member 614-466-5131
Teresa Fedor 614-466-5304
Theresa Gavarone 614-466-8060
Frank Hoagland 614-466-6508
Rob McColley 614-466-8150
Bob Peterson 614-466-8156
Kristina Roegner 614-466-4823
Cecil Thomas 614-466-5980

Research supporting points on preventing gun violence in schools:

1.  Keeping Our Schools Safe, A Plan for Preventing Mass Shootings and Ending All Gun Violence in American Schools, https://everytownresearch.org/reports/keeping-our-schools-safe-a-plan-to-stop-mass-shootings-and-end-all-gun-violence-in-american-schools/#foot_note_28 and accompanying text, showing, among other things, that school shooters in the US have all exhibited warning signs before the attack), citing
2.  PROTECTING AMERICA’S SCHOOLS A U.S. SECRET SERVICE ANALYSIS OF TARGETED SCHOOL VIOLENCE,
https://www.secretservice.gov/data/protection/ntac/Protecting_Americas_Schools.pdf, p. 5, and
3.  Giffords Center, Every Incident of Mishandled Guns in Schools,
https://giffords.org/blog/2020/03/every-incident-of-mishandled-guns-in-schools-blog/

Ariel Miller is a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming.