Guest Blogger

Ohio Senate Removes LGBT Protections From Teen Dating-Violence Prevention Law

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 30, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-LGBT, domestic violence, Ohio

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Chris Geidner is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who blogs at Law Dork, is a regular contributor to Metro Weekly and has written for The Atlantic Online, and elsewhere.  You also can follow him on Twitter.

Chris Geidner

Although the LGBT world has been focused on marriage and domestic partnerships on the coasts, I thought it important as we wrap up the year to note that in Ohio, the Senate won't even pass a dating violence prevention bill for students that includes LGBT-inclusive language.

In May, the Democrat-controlled Ohio House passed a bill providing for a state model policy on teen dating violence prevention, specific requirements for local school boards to adopt in their policies and inclusive definitions to ensure that all Ohio students would be protected.  This week, after the Republican-controlled Senate got their hands on it, the Governor signed a bill that contains none of that and merely requires local school boards to adopt a policy addressing teen dating violence prevention.

The house bill, passed on a 62-35 vote, was short and simple, requiring the Ohio Board of Education to "develop a model dating violence prevention policy to assist school districts in developing their own policies."  The local school boards then, for grades seven through twelve, would have been required to then establish a dating violence prevention program, several requirements of which were provided for in the bill.

Additionally, the House bill defined "dating partner" as "any person, regardless of gender, involved in an intimate relationship with another primarily characterized by the expectation of affectionate involvement whether casual, serious, or long-term."  It also defined "dating violence."  This provided some very real protection for LGBT students that they otherwise would be unlikely to get if their local school districts were to define such terms themselves.

The bill then was introduced to the Republicans-controlled Senate, where it sat for months.  Finally, on November 18, with co-sponsorship by Education Committee Chair Gary Cates, a Republican, from the Education Committee, with the State Board provision and local requirements stripped from the bill.  What this meant was that there would be no model policy put forth by the state and that each district would devise one of its own making.  This "compromise" also led to the co-sponsorship of two other Republicans on the committee, Sens. Carey and Gibbs, however, as well as the three Democrats, Sens. Sawyer, Fedor and Morano.

Then, the bill proceeded to the Senate, where it was "recommitted" to the Education Committee on December 9.  At this point, although not clear at whose request, even the definitions were removed and the bill was re-reported out of the committee.  The bill, with no model policy, no local requirements and no definitions was then passed by the Senate on a 32-0 vote on December 16.

The House quickly concurred to the Senate's changes on December 17 on a 74-22 vote, and the enrolled bill was sent to Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, on December 22.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland today signed the bill into law.  Although the first bill listed in the Governor's news release, his office provided no quotation to be used by the media about the bill's enactment and no response was given to an e-mail seeking comment from his office this evening.
It's not really a wonder why.

What is confusing, though, is how the Senate Education Committee compromise couldn't pass the Ohio Senate.  With twelve Democrats and three Republicans in committee already on board, only two more Republican votes were needed for the bill to pass the 33-member chamber.  It seems to me that Sen. Goodman's vote could be presumed, and it's not hard to imagine at least one other Republican going along with a bill that already had 3 Republicans on board.

At that point, the question is who got to President Harris.  Either Harris personally didn't want the bill to come to the floor with the inclusive definitions, or someone convinced Harris to get them out.  So, which is it?  And if it wasn't something Harris wanted personally removed, who did?

The point is that someone or some group took an inclusive bill that had already been amended to reach a "bigger government Democrat"-"smaller government Republican" compromise.  The only purpose for recommitting the bill to the Senate Education Committee was to remove the inclusive definitions that provided much-needed protection for LGBT students.

Who wanted those protections gone?  And, more importantly, why?

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Senate President Harris has made it clear he views LGBT Ohioans as essentially non-citizens. I would fully expect it was Harris that got the language pulled from that bill.
The reason I say this is Equality Ohio has been working very hard to get the fully-inclusive Equal Housing and Employment act (EHEA; HB 176) passed by the Ohio Senate. It has already passed the Ohio House. However, Senate President Harris has made it quite clear that he feels the EHEA bill is totally unnecessary (he feels LGBT Ohioans don't need such 'special' protections) and is trying to get the bill hung up in committee.
In addition, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce (sp?) is trying to get several ammendments added to the bill that are unacceptable to the LGBT community. EHEA has a real chance of passing IF Senator Harris will give it a chance, but he apparently feels we are not worth it.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that Harris views LGBT people as "non-citizens," but he certainly is less than supportive of our issues.

I've done a good amount of coverage about EHEA over at Law Dork; you should check it out.

And yes, you're right about the Chamber's stranglehold on the EHEA. Their amendments would not only make the bill unacceptable to the LGBT community. They also, if fully incorporated, would make the bill unacceptable to the Black Caucus and many civil rights organizations in Ohio.

No model policy? What an empty bill. Am I reading this right? It sounds like schools can just put up a bulletin board that will go ignored by most students.