Ohio House Speaker: Economy before Firearms Law Reform

By Chad D. Baus

On Monday, the Associated Press published an opinion piece by John McCarty entitled "PERSPECTIVE: Economy, energy trump Ohio social issues". While the original news wire contained the word "perspective" in the headline, many newspapers removed that word and instead ran the story as fact. Their motivation for wanting to report it this way can be seen after reading the first couple of paragraphs:

    A year after the Legislature's ban on gay marriages and concealed weapons took effect, social issues are largely absent from the House or Senate floor and hearing rooms.

    It's going to stay that way, for now at least.

    Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted, both Republicans, say their priorities over the next nine months are reviving Ohio's economy, creating jobs and trying to contain the price of energy, especially gasoline and natural gas.

    Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who sponsored the gay marriage ban, said many of the so-called values issues have already become law and it's time to focus on pocketbook issues.

    "That's not to say we're deserting those issues. What hasn't turned around to anybody's satisfaction is the economy of the state of Ohio," Seitz said Friday.

Is HB347, the sweeping firearms law reform bill introduced last week by Rep. Jim Aslanides, really on a slow road to nowhere? Consider the words of then-Speaker Larry Householder after House Bill 12 was introduced in January 2004: ..."As far as the future of the state of Ohio and how we move forward, I think that particular issue is one that takes a seat in the back."

Two months later, the bill had been passed by the full House 69-28 and was sent to the Senate for consideration. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Taft less than a year after Householder uttered those words. The moral of the story is that it is sometimes easier to deflect the attention of journalists who are so quick to criticize any move a Republican Speaker makes.

So is this simply a new round of deflection? Can such quick action as the Ohio House handled HB12 be anticipated on HB347? Other AP quotes from the House Speaker and Senate President suggest they believe a few things must be taken care of first:

Again, from the AP "Perspective" piece:

    [Senate President Bill] Harris is hopeful that the energy committee can come up with a way to make natural gas and gasoline more affordable, or at least keep it from getting more expensive.

    "Does the state have an energy policy? We don't have one. We know the answer to that one. If we don't have one, should the state have an energy policy? We should. What should it include?" Harris said.

And again:

    Husted is not hostile to values legislation but has made his priorities and is sticking to them, spokeswoman Karen Tabor said. It’s more a matter of practicality when it comes to Ohio’s economy, she said. Husted’s predecessor as speaker, Republican Larry Householder, didn’t face the same challenges, she indicated.

To be sure, there are indeed different issues facing this state than in 2004, but that in no way lessens the need for legislation which will help people avoid prosecution for unintentionally running afoul of city gun bans simply by traveling through the wrong jurisdiction with a firearm locked in their truck, for confusion over just how to carry in "plain sight", for mistakenly believing an expunged record could not be seen by a sheriff processing a CHL application, etc. Rep. Seitz seems to agree:

    While the economy should dominate the legislative debate, there's room for social issues, Seitz said.

    "I don't think that means we're not going to do anything else. I'd say it's a case of changing the tone. We're trying to keep our eye on first things first," he said.

Clearly, the possibility that House Bill 347 might not see quick action is exciting to the press (for further example, see the Cleveland Plain Dealer's "New group looks to steer legislature past guns, God"). But what is not mentioned in these stories is another piece of "social" legislation that the media cares very much about, and which has been stalled in committee, thanks in part to Rep. Seitz.

House Bill 9, the media's much-touted "open records" bill, sits in Seitz's House Civil & Commercial Law Committee. Last spring, Seitz made the media shriek after proposing that the bill would be a good place in which to insert a measure to close public access to the names of Ohioans who have received concealed handgun licenses. That proposal failed after a Taft veto threat, but the bill has not yet been moved out of committee.

So really, just how long does the media want to see the legislature hold off on bills that are not related to the economy? Our guess is when the next article on House Bill 9 is written, they'll be demanding the General Assembly act now, and revealing their hypocracy in the process.

Contact Speaker Jon Husted and urge him to fast-track HB347!

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