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Misfire: Ohio House adjourns without taking up Second Amendment sanctuary bill

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Misfire: Ohio House adjourns without taking up Second Amendment sanctuary bill

Dec 07, 2023 | 4:55 am ET
By Nick Evans
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Misfire: Ohio House adjourns without taking up Second Amendment sanctuary bill
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The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The Ohio House balked Wednesday on a measure that would excise any reference to federal gun statutes in state law. House Speaker Jason Stephens abruptly gaveled out of session without taking up the proposal.

Supporters claim the measure, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, or SAPA, is only meant to keep federal authorities from co-opting state and local agencies. In truth it goes well beyond that. Instead of simply defending state prerogatives, it creates legal mechanisms to punish current and past enforcement of gun laws the backers oppose.

Those penalties are harsh enough that prosecutors and police chiefs contend the proposal would discourage and potentially preclude interagency partnerships that are crucial to investigating gun, drug and trafficking cases.

Last minute changes prompted arguments from Democrats that the measure wasn’t ready for the House floor.  The sudden delay gives some credence to those complaints.

Speaker Stephens did not answer questions after Wednesday’s session, but the House meets again next Wednesday, Dec. 13. The chamber also has an “if needed” session scheduled for Tuesday.

Emergency?

Misfire: Ohio House adjourns without taking up Second Amendment sanctuary bill
COLUMBUS, Ohio — DECEMBER 06: House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, speaks to reporters after the Ohio House session, December 6, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

After the House adjourned, Minority Leader Allison Russo just chuckled in disbelief.

“My understanding is there weren’t enough votes to get it off the floor,” she said, “so they pulled it back.”

That echoes her comments earlier this week when the Rules and Reference committee put SAPA on the House calendar.

The committee is the last stop on the path to the floor, with the House Speaker sitting in the tollbooth. Because of that control, it’s relatively unusual for lawmakers to amend legislation in the Rules committee.

But that calculus can change for controversial bills.

Earlier this year, for instance, the Rules committee scrapped the August date from the resolution asking voters to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60%. The date was added back later on the House floor.

Like that resolution, SAPA’s backers are looking for a supermajority.

Not only do they want the bill to pass, they want it to take effect immediately after the governor signs it into law. But to add the necessary emergency clause to the bill, they’ll need support from two-thirds of members.

Even in the GOP-dominated House, that’s a tall order, so Republicans on the Rules committee stripped the provision out.

Russo objected, arguing if the existing version had problems, they should send it back to its original committee, not the House floor.

“I’m not really sure why it came out of committee with an emergency clause if it didn’t have the votes to support it on the floor,” she argued at the time.

“This bill is not in a place where it needs to be to go to the floor,” Russo added, “besides being highly objectionable for many reasons.”

Nevertheless, the committee adopted the amendment and advanced the bill to the floor without an emergency clause.

What’s next

Wednesday night after House lawmakers left the bill in limbo, Russo argued it’s too radical to muster a bare majority.

“I think it speaks to the extreme nature of this legislation that would essentially eliminate coordination with our federal partners,” she said. “Every single law enforcement entity is opposed to this legislation, because at the end of the day, it makes our streets more dangerous and ties the hands of law enforcement to solve crime.”

Opponents noted the bills prohibitions were so broad that the ballistics database cops use to connect gun crimes would be off-limits. Despite a handful of last minute carve outs, prosecutors and police chiefs warned the bill’s broad scope could still hamper law enforcement.

“I suspect,” Russo said, “when push came to shove, and people actually have to make public what their vote is on that screen, there are a lot of people who decided they weren’t ready to do that.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.