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Ohio House blocks controversial higher education overhaul bill

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Ohio House blocks controversial higher education overhaul bill

Nov 29, 2023 | 4:55 am ET
By Morgan Trau
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Ohio House blocks controversial higher education overhaul bill
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — MAY 24: House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, holds the gavel during the Ohio House session, May 24, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The Ohio House has seemingly killed the controversial legislation to overhaul the Ohio education system, resulting in a win for public education advocates.

Senate Bill 83 would completely change the college system. This bill focuses on what bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) and some Republicans consider “free speech” by banning public universities in Ohio from having “bias” in the classroom and limiting what “controversial topics” can be taught.

Click here to read more details about the latest version of the bill.

“We’re glad to see that the ‘brain-drain’ bill may be on its way out,” Dr. Pranav Jani, an OSU professor and president of the university’s chapter of American Association of University Professors.

One of the most troubling aspects was the elimination of the tenure system, Jani said.

And after immense protest and months languishing in committees, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has given some hope to educators like Jani.

“It doesn’t have the votes,” he told reporters Tuesday morning.

When asked if the bill was completely done or if he would still be trying to move it forward, Stephens laughed.

“Well, I don’t know that I’m trying,” he chuckled.

The speaker has never been the biggest fan of the legislation and has made it clear for months that caucus members were not all on board.

“I think there are a lot of concerns with that bill from both sides of the aisle, frankly,” Stephens added.

This came as a shock to Cirino.

“I think there is tremendous support in the house,” Cirino told News 5. “I honestly don’t believe that the speaker has much personal knowledge of what’s in this bill.”

The bill is now on its 11th draft. Cirino explained he has made compromises, such as taking out the no-striking provision.

Not only was it a surprise for Cirino, but Higher Education Committee Chair Tom Young (R-Washington Twp.) told News 5 he had no idea the speaker was going to release this information.

Cirino explained that he believes Stephens may be holding out from putting this bill forward because of his close relationship with Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington).

“Remember, you have the speaker who did not receive a majority of the Republican votes to become speaker,” Cirino said, referencing the ongoing speakership chaos that started when Stephens won the leadership position by partnering with Democrats to help elect him. “Maybe there are concerns that he has over what others might think, other than the Republican caucus.”

Numerous Republican House representatives told News 5 on Tuesday that they “despise” S.B. 83 because they deem it to be anti-labor and stifling of free speech.

However, Cirino said he and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) are in agreement that they will keep fighting for this bill, but won’t be as accommodating next time.

“When you make concessions and the folks who say ‘if you make these concessions, I’ll vote for it’ but they don’t — well, then the concessions don’t end up getting made in the future,” Huffman said before the Thanksgiving break.

This quasi-threat from Huffman may hold weight. He is approaching the limit of his term in the Senate, and he is expected to challenge Stephens for the speaker position in the House next session. The two leaders have a very contentious relationship as a result.

If Huffman were to become speaker, it’s likely that this bill would be brought to a full vote in the House, with or without the votes.

For now, Jani remains cautiously optimistic.

“If they wanna go back to the original version — we fought that already, we feel pretty confident,” he said.

“And you’ll fight it again,” Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau responded.

“And we’ll fight it again,” the professor answered.

The bill is scheduled to have another committee hearing in the House on Wednesday, despite Stephens’ remarks.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.