What went wrong – why gun owners got next to nothing in the last General Assembly
by Jim Irvine
The 128th General Assembly (2009-2010) is history. SB239 (Restaurant & Car Carry Rules Fixes) and SB247 (Restoration of Rights) are dead. Despite having the broad support in the Senate, the House and Governor Strickland, these important bills never passed. We will examine what when wrong, and where we go from here.
Long-time readers of this web site may remember that we tried to fix the issues addressed in these two bills in 2008, during debate on SB184 (Ohio's Castle Doctrine legislation). They were known problems, and most legislators agreed that a fix was needed. However, so much had already been stuffed into SB184 that it was decided that holding up SB184, which contained enormous improvements for gun owners, should not be further delayed. These issues, we were assured, would be taken up early in 2009.
November of 2008 saw a major political upheaval. Voters were sick and tired of "politics as usual" and wanted "change." President Obama played that tune all the way to the White House, and many traditional Republican seats were lost, as Democrats road Obama's coattails into office. Several Ohio Congressional seats switched from Republican to Democrat, and more importantly, so did enough Ohio House seats to change the balance of power and give Ohio Democrats the Speaker of the House position for the first time since Vernal Riffe (D), who held the position from 1975 through the end of 1994.
With Democrats now controlling two of the three branches, there was certain to be conflict between the parties. A huge budget crisis added fuel to the fire. There were fewer bills moved last session than any session in recent memory. Knowing it would be a difficult session, we stuck to our three critical issues with every legislator we met with; a move that was very well received.
With all the distractions, our bills were not introduced in January of 2009. In fact they were not introduced in 2009 at all. SB239 was finally introduced on March 16, 2010. SB247 was introduced on April 13, 2010. Both bills passed the Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee on May 27, 2010 and were passed by the full Senate later that same day. That was fast movement after the bills were introduced, but in total, the Senate had taken 17 months to move the bills over to the House, which was about to recess until after the November election.
Normally, bills need three committee hearings before being passed. But when short on time, it is common for popular bills to be amended into other bills that are about to be passed, thus bypassing the "three hearings" rule. Amendments were drawn up to amend both SB239 and SB247 into SB181, which was to be voted on in the House before the recess.
Then-Representative Michael Skindell (D) made a motion to close debate on SB181 so that there could not be any amendments. His motion was supported by Reps. Ted Celest (D), Tom Letson (D), Joseph Koziura (D), and Clayton Luckie (D). Along basically party line votes, the motion passed 52-44, and the two needed gun bills would not be amended and passed before the recess. (SB181 was signed by Governor Strickland on June 13 and went into effect on September 13, 2010. Gun owners would have to wait.)
In numerous conversations, Speaker Armond Budish (D) indicated that even though our bills did not receive a vote before recess, they would be voted on in the lame duck session after the election. We took him at his word.
Thanks in part to an incumbent-friendly endorsement policy, which tips a race between two equally pro-gun candidates in favor of the person who already holds the seat, this non-partisan PAC endorsed many Democrats last year. After 16 years of Governors Voinovich and Taft, Democrats under Governor Strickland had been great to work with. When both parties are good on your issue, you will be happy with the laws that are passed.
Last November saw another political upheaval, as voters realized that President Obama's "change" was simply going from bad to worse, when a change in direction was needed. This time around many traditional Democratic seats switched to Republican. Our endorsed candidates, Strickland and Cordray, both lost by less than 2% of the votes cast. Numerous Democratic friends in the Ohio House and Congress also lost to Republicans. Republicans won every statewide race, picked up 63 U.S. Congressional seats, and Ohioan John Boehner (R) is now the Speaker of the House.
After the dust settled on the shellacking the Democrats took at the polls, rumors were rampant that Speaker Budish was not even coming back. Repeated calls to Democratic leadership were not returned, or returned days later but without answers to future sessions or the status of the two pro-gun bills. We were asked repeatedly "how did (insert any D candidate we endorsed and lost) do?" Our inability to help several key Democrats win reelection surely hurt us. I know its cliché, but elections really matter.
It turned out that sessions were held, but our bills were not put on the calendar for a vote. Representative Danny Bubp (R-88) headed up an extremely rare procedural move called a "discharge petition," which discharges a bill from committee and brings it to the House floor for a vote. Even the Speaker of the House can't stop it.
On the morning of December 7, Representative Bubp witnessed the required 50 signatures (there are 99 State Representatives) on two different discharge petitions required to move the two bills and filed them with the clerk's office.
Unfortunately, the House clerk ruled that the House was not forced to act on the petitions the next session, which was later that day. The clerk interpreted the rules to mean a House vote on the petition was required on the second session day, which would then be acted upon on the third session day.
On December 8th, Bubp moved that the motion to discharge SB239 and SB247 be agreed to. They passed, but with a majority of Representatives already signing the petition, that was hardly news.
The bills would have received a vote, had there been a next session, but Speaker Budish never called the House back for another session, thus killing these two critical bills. Many Democrats say they supported us, but simply "ran out of time." Or maybe they don't really care about your rights?
Consider SB235, which was introduced by Senator Fedor (D) at about the same time as the two pro-gun bills. Unlike our bills, it was not passed by the Senate and sent to the Ohio House until December 1. (Remember, our bills passed the Senate back on May 27th.) Speaker Budish scheduled that bill for a vote on December 8. It passed and was signed into law by Governor Strickland on December 23, and will become effective on March 24, 2011.
The bottom line is this – Speaker Budish had multiple opportunities to pass bills protecting law-abiding gun owners. He passed plenty of other bills, even with less time to get them done. Our bills were not voted upon, sent to the Governor, and signed into law because Speaker Budish did not want them to pass.
Thankfully, Budish has been replaced by Speaker William Batchelder (R), but it is interesting to note that supposedly pro-gun Democrats voted to keep Budish as their minority leader. Senate President Bill Harris (R) is also gone, having been replaced by President Tom Niehaus (R). Both new Republican leaders have a history of being pro-gun, so moving good legislation should be easy this session.
And that leaves us with Governor John Kasich (R) who has a mixed record when it comes to gun rights. Which Kasich will he be this time around - the one who spoke so positively about the Second Amendment during the campaign, or the one voted to ban many semi-automatic rifles and effectively end gun shows? Pro-gun Republican legislators have promised us he will be friendly to our cause. Only time will tell, but we aim to test the waters quickly in this new session.
Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman.