Ohio House Speaker Fight Could Delay Some Bills For Months

May 24, 2018

Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring, who's filling in as the Ohio House's top leader, has once again called off the vote for a new Speaker. That disorder of not having a speaker in charge is making its way into policymaking and could make for some long delays.

There’s something of a ticking clock here. The House was planning on ending legislative business this week. That way, they could go on summer break and since most members are running for re-election in November, they want to focus on their campaigns. Then they would come back after the general election.

But Democratic state Rep. John Patterson says there’s still important work to do. He says bills that would pay for better voting machines and improve training for school resource officers can’t wait until November.

Several Republican lawmakers, including Andrew Brenner, agree that the House should get on with its business and a vote for a new speaker should be called.

Mary Rice, a school board member in East Cleveland, drove down to Columbus to attend a House Education Committee. Rice says she’s been let down by the lawmaking process at the Statehouse.

“Now I’m just wondering, is that the way government is supposed to work?” Rice said.

But what Rice, and everyone else sitting in the committee room experienced, was not your typical hearing.

House Republicans moved to table an amendment presented by Democrats, which would put a moratorium on the so-called state takeover of school districts. This is the one Rice came to Columbus to advocate for.

Tabling an amendment offered by the minority is a common procedural move when all the members of the majority, in this case Republicans, fall in line. But not this time.

There seemed to be dissention among Republican members, so a sudden meeting of the caucus was called to get members on the same page. But when Brenner, the Republican Committee Chair, returned to announce no action would be taken on the amendments.

“Since we’re still having discussions over some of these amendments and we’ve been keeping you awhile and this bill is not going to be voted out today we’re going to go ahead and suspend the rest of the meeting and we’re going to go ahead and adjourn for the day,” Brenner said.

You can hear the audible surprise from Rice and her group of administrators. The bill was scheduled for a possible vote out of committee. Now it’s stalled.

It’d be tough to argue that the delayed vote for a new House speaker didn’t have something to do with this disorder.

But Brenner says this is just a matter of timing.

"Because of the fact that the sessions keep getting delayed or other stuff is causing some issues there but I think is just, it’s a big bill, there’s a lot of amendments and we were trying to get it out given the fact that there’s a short timeline and we were potentially going to get a speaker vote today too but that didn’t happen,” he says.

It’s hard to explain but confusion and even a bit of chaos has been the vibe at the Statehouse ever since House Republicans failed to reach a consensus for speaker the first time last week. That only grows with the most recent delay.

Patterson is the ranking member of the education committee. He says what’s happening is a split of ideological differences from his Republican counterparts is becoming visible.

“That are now more apparent than they might have been. Fissures that are appearing that may not have appeared otherwise and it’s a fact that a lot of our colleagues on the other side are under a great deal of stress right now,” Patterson says.

In any case, the frustration is mounting for people like Rice who want to see elected leaders get back to work.

“If they would get together and actually serve their constituents because this is not service, this is a disservice,” says Rice.

A collection of associations representing several groups sent a letter to lawmakers echoing Rice’ call. The coalition, which includes major players such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association say they implore members of the House Republican caucus to set aside differences and preferences to focus on the needs of the state.