January 4, 2023
Stephens Elected Speaker of the Ohio House
In a stunning turn of events, State Representative Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) was elected Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Tuesday in the first session of the 135th Ohio General Assembly. Of the 99 members of the Ohio House, Speaker Stephens received 54 votes and upset the presumptive nominee, State Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Twp.), who received 43 votes and fell short of the 50-vote threshold to seize the gavel. Rep. Merrin previously had been tentatively selected by the Ohio House Republican caucus to serve as Speaker-Elect following the November general election, an informal vote which was negated by the formal floor vote.

Speaker Stephens will lead the Ohio House thanks to the help of the House Democratic Caucus, whose 32 members voted in unison for Stephens along with 22 of the 67 House Republicans. The subsequent leadership votes included the re-election of Minority Leader Allison Russo (D- Upper Arlington), and adoption of a minority leadership slate with Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) as assistant minority leader, Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) as minority whip, and Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) as assistant minority whip.

After selecting former Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-Canton) to serve as speaker pro tempore, the House recessed for the remainder of the week without Speaker Stephens naming any further members of the majority leadership team.
Huffman Re-Elected as Ohio Senate President
Leading a historic 26-7 supermajority, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was re-elected to his position during opening day ceremonies in the upper chamber. Joining President Huffman’s leadership team will be Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) as president pro tempore, Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) as majority floor leader, and Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) as majority whip. All were elected unanimously by Ohio Senate members.

Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) was chosen as Senate Minority Leader, with a leadership team consisting of Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) as assistant minority leader, Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) as minority whip, and Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) as assistant minority whip.
Governor DeWine Signs Ohio Chamber-Supported Bills
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce formalized legislative wins for the state’s business community in just the past two days with three key bill signings by Governor Mike DeWine:

Senate Bill 302 – this bill takes steps to combat fraud in Ohio’s unemployment compensation system, which is entirely funded by employer taxes. Ohio Chamber General Counsel Kevin Shimp testified that the legislation’s data sharing agreements and income verification tools will make it harder for criminal actors to exploit Ohio’s unemployment system and could prevent a repeat of the massive fraud witnessed over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 131 – this bill establishes universal occupational licensure reciprocity, which helps Ohio address its workforce challenges by recruiting out-of-state workers and welcoming back the millions of Ohioans who have fled the state over time. During his committee testimony supporting SB 131, Ohio Chamber SVP Rick Carfagna explained that by recognizing occupational licenses from other states, SB 131 reduces or even eliminates certain re-licensing costs for individuals while also supplying Ohio with trained professionals having the skills to match in-demand career fields.

Senate Bill 288 – the Ohio House amended an Ohio Chamber priority bill, House Bill 283, into Senate Bill 288 which contained several criminal justice reforms. The legislation makes “using, holding, or physically supporting” an electronic device while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop and cite drivers solely for that offense.

SB 288 will go into effect in 90 days, and law enforcement will issue warnings to drivers violating the law during the first six months after the effective date. Following the six-month grace period, law enforcement can issue citations with penalties including a fine of up to $150 for a driver's first offense and two points on their license, unless a distracted driving safety course is completed. Increased penalties can occur if the driver is a repeat offender.

These distracted driving law enhancements contain an assortment of exceptions, including allowing the use of devices if drivers are stopped at a red light, using a speakerphone function without holding the phone, or holding a phone to their ears for a call but not using texting or typing functions. The Ohio Chamber heard from members across several business sectors about the importance of making Ohio’s roads safer for families, workers, and all who depend on the roads for their livelihoods.