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Ohio House Higher Education Committee votes to pass massive overhaul bill


Ohio House Higher Education Committee votes to pass massive overhaul bill

Dec 07, 2023 | 4:50 am ET
By Megan Henry
Ohio House Higher Education Committee votes to pass massive overhaul bill
COLUMBUS, Ohio — JUNE 14: (left to right) Students Mel Searle from the University of Cincinnati, Kayli Rego, Brielle Shorter and Brittany Glenn from Ohio State prepare for a protest led by the Ohio Student Association in opposition to Senate Bill 83, June 14, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

A massive bill that would upend Ohio colleges and universities passed by a 8-7 vote in the House Higher Education Committee Wednesday morning. 

Senate Bill 83, which passed in the Senate earlier this year, now awaits further consideration in the House. However, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens R-Kitts Hill, said last week the bill isn’t likely to pass in the House, saying “it doesn’t have the votes.” 

Republican Reps. Rep. Gail Pavliga and Justin Pizzulli joined their democrat committee members in voting against the bill. 

State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, introduced SB 83 earlier this year — which is currently in its 11th version. 

“I’m delighted with the outcome,” he said to reporters Wednesday afternoon. “It was closer than I would like it to have been, but we’re delighted with it. And I think it speaks highly of the fact that people realize that we need some of this reform in the state of Ohio and higher education.”

Cirino said he hopes to talk to Stephens about bringing the bill to the House floor. 

“I’m gonna make myself very available to help explain the bill and justify it and answer any questions that he might have,” Cirino said.

“If (Stephens) decides not to bring it to the floor after passing it out of his own committee, with strong support from his chairman of the committee, that again is his prerogative,” he said. “I will try to persuade him to do otherwise. If he elects not to do that, then we will wait for another propitious time to bring this forward.”

What’s in the bill? 

The current version of SB 83 eliminated a controversial anti-striking provision, but added a new retrenchment provision that would prevent unions from negotiating on tenure. It would also allow universities to fire tenured professors for a broad list of reasons including reduction in student population. Faculty with between 30-35 years of tenure would be protected. 

SB 83 prohibits mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training unless the training is mandatory to comply with state and federal law, professional licensure requirements or to get accreditation or grants.  

The bill defines controversial beliefs or policy as “any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.”

The bill would allow students to “reach their own conclusions about all controversial beliefs or policies and shall not seek to indoctrinate any social, political, or religious point of view.”

SB 83 says Ohio universities can only enter into a new or renewed academic partnership with a Chinese academic institution if there are certain “safeguards” in place — including complying with all federal regulations — “to protect the state institution’s intellectual property, the security of the state of Ohio, and the national security interests of the United States.” 

Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, said “the bill’s alive” as he walked out of committee.

Reactions to SB 83 passing out of committee

“SB 83 directly impacts students and our voices should be at the center of this conversation. Instead, we have been repeatedly silenced and ignored when we continue to say loud and clear that we unequivocally do not want SB 83 and that its passage would be devastatingly harmful to us,” Mel Searle, Ohio Student Association member and a University of Cincinnati student said in a statement.

Sara Kilpatrick, executive director of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Ohio Conference, said it isn’t over yet.

“We believe there are still plenty of lawmakers who don’t want to destroy higher education, and we are counting on them to do what’s right,” she said. “We will continue fighting this bill every step of the way.

Committee Ranking Member Joe Miller, D-Lorain, said SB 83 is toxic. 

“Just because we took crap and we put it in the chicken sandwich, it’s still crap,” he told reporters after the committee vote. “I’m not eating and neither should the people of Ohio.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.