COLUMBUS – The Ohio Democratic Women’s Legislative Caucus today issued a statement in response to Attorney General Dave Yost’s directive that all surgical abortions in Ohio halt believing that this would be in accordance with the State Health Director’s order for people to cancel all elective surgeries.  


“During an emergency, there is always a chance of government overreach under the guise of ‘security’ or adherence to ‘law and order.’ In times of national crisis, we have seen egregious acts that have circumvented our freedoms before. And make no mistake – we are seeing them today. Right now an opportunistic Attorney General is seizing on a moment of public vulnerability to push his political agenda. This is a strategic attack on women and a calculated political maneuver intended to strip away our legal right to abortion care at the most uncertain of times. AG Yost’s actions are despicable.


As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology have recognized, abortion is an essential, time-sensitive, legal medical procedure. Postponing it even a few days is a restriction to access and is unconstitutional. The state should not be picking and choosing which medical procedures are elective or essential. This latitude has appropriately been given to health care professionals and their patients, not male ideological politicians.


Women will still seek the legal procedure of abortion they need but expecting them to travel out of state when the state is requiring them to stay home is a violation of the State Health Director’s order itself. AG Yost should be ashamed. This is a time for our state to put aside personal ideology and political tricks for the good of the public, not to take advantage of a global pandemic.”

 
 
  
 
Leader Sykes Outlines Vote By Mail Proposal As State Continues To Battle COVD-19 Outbreak
Says vote-by-mail best way to promote health, conduct election during pandemic
March 20, 2020
 
 

House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today detailed her caucus’ priorities as state lawmakers prepare to return to the Statehouse next week to determine the timeline and procedures by which voters will be able to cast their ballots in the Ohio primary, which was scheduled for March 17, but postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.


“We cannot predict the spread of the virus will be better in April, May or June, so the only way to hold this election with minimum risk for voters and poll workers alike is to conduct vote-by-mail only, a proven, secure system that’s already up and running in other states. We cannot risk further chaos and jeopardize the health of everyday Ohioans by scheduling another in-person primary during this deadly pandemic.


“Moving forward, we must use this as an opportunity to correct the failures of our out-of-date election system and work together on nonpartisan solutions that make our elections adaptable in cases of emergency, and more accessible and secure for all Ohio voters.”


House Democrats proposed the following:



  • No in-person voting to ensure health and safety of poll workers and voters;

  • Prepaid postage for absentee ballots;

  • Make absentee ballot applications electronically accessible;

  • More drop box locations;

  • April 28 deadline for mailing in ballots with a reasonable grace period for return;

  • Require Boards of Elections to develop or adhere to safe handling procedures for return mail;

  • Confined voter voting shall be extended and used expansively and include jailed voters;

  • Require non-partisan voter education programs and media plans;

  • Reimburse Boards for voter education materials, alternative secure drop off sites and other expenses;

  • Boards of Elections must accept all absentee applications applied for with postmarks after Saturday, March 14 at noon.

 
 
  
 
Leader Sykes, House Democrats Discuss Legislative Ideas And Constituent Concerns With Governor DeWine
Sykes creates six workgroups to tackle the monumental task of developing state policy in a time of a worldwide pandemic
March 20, 2020
 
 

COLUMBUS—House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement today following a call with Governor Mike DeWine and the entire House Democratic Caucus. During that call, Democratic members of the House expressed their thoughts on legislative remedies to the current public health and economic crises as well as shared concerns they are hearing from local leaders and constituents in their districts.


Earlier in the week, Leader Sykes created six work groups to tackle the monumental task of developing state policy in a time of a worldwide pandemic. The following work groups are assembled by policy areas and are each led by a different member of the House Democratic Caucus:



  • Education Workgroup

  • Working Family Support Workgroup

  • Healthcare Workgroup

  • Tax and Finance Workgroup

  • Voting and Election Workgroup

  • Government Functions Workgroup


Based on feedback from their constituents and local leaders, House Democrats have together identified more than 50 high-priority issues thus far, some requiring short-term and others requiring long-term legislative action. Some of the broad issues being immediately identified include:



  • Expanding access to unemployment benefits and paid sick leave to more Ohioans;

  • Providing vitally important tax relief for working families and small businesses;

  • Codifying in state law that no sick Ohioans will pay for the cost of treatment and/or testing related to COVID-19;

  • Protecting Medicaid and TANF benefits from interruption;

  • Enhancing access to care through telehealth and allowing longer supplies of medications be prescribed;

  • Prohibiting any K-12 school student  from being penalized due to the governor’s emergency actions, including waiving state testing requirements;

  • Providing certainty to schools and families by not allowing current expansion of EdChoice vouchers;

  • Enabling state and local government bodies to meet remotely to address the needs of their constituents;

  • Protecting the constitutional right of all Ohioans to vote under these extraordinary circumstances;

  • Prohibiting evictions and foreclosures during this time of crisis and reassuring Ohioans they can stay safely in their homes;

  • Preventing vital service interruptions from gas, water, electricity providers;

  • Allowing appropriate insurance coverage for businesses and individuals.


House Democrats are also evaluating possible revenue streams for these proposals that include tapping into the Budget Stabilization fund, General Revenue funds, as well as acceptance of federal dollars. Members will discuss utilizing state emergency dollars during a meeting of the Controlling Board next week as well as working with JobsOhio to identify ways in which that agency can assist in the support of our state and local economies.


“During this time of unprecedented crisis in our state, the role of the legislature is to work in tandem with the other two branches of government as well as local and federal officials to provide the most comprehensive action plan possible that helps the most Ohioans, especially the ones hardest hurt by this pandemic,” Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) said. “Our caucus is in constant communication with various stakeholders to identify and prioritize areas that the General Assembly needs to focus on. We will continue assessing the situation in the days, weeks and months to come, appropriating funding and resources accordingly.”  


The efforts of the six workgroups are in preparation to Speaker Householder’s call to convene the General Assembly next week.  


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Rep. West's Law To Improve Children's Health Takes Effect Today
Says House Bill 12 gives families, caregivers tools they need to support children's development
March 19, 2020
 
 

COLUMBUS- State Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) today announced that House Bill (HB) 12, his bipartisan legislation with state Rep. Don Manning (R-New Middletown) to create the Children’s Behavioral Health Prevention Network Stakeholder Group, officially takes effect after being signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine 90 days ago.


“For too long, we have lacked a coordinated and integrated effort to adequately support our children’s social, behavioral and emotional health,” said West. “This stakeholder group accomplishes that exact purpose, and it will provide Ohio’s families and caregivers with the tools they need to ensure each and every child has the opportunity to thrive, not just survive. Amidst the public health crisis posed by COVID-19, our children’s behavioral health (and that of all Ohioans) in addition to their physical health is more important than ever.”


The stakeholder group will include the Director of the Governor’s Children’s Initiatives, several state agency directors (or their designees) whose agencies are pertinent to the stakeholder group’s mission, and representatives, as chosen by the Director of the Governor’s Children’s Initiatives, from several relevant external groups.


Under the act, the Director of Children’s Initiatives will determine the scope of the group’s inquiry and coordinate the efforts of its members in developing common goals, best practices for behavioral health prevention and a prevention pilot program. The group will also collect data focused on health outcomes as well as race, ethnicity, parental income and education and type of health insurance. At the conclusion of this 18-month process, the group will submit a report containing its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly.

 
 
  
 
Leader Sykes: Secretary LaRose Is Creating More Chaos With Misinformation Campaign
Expresses outrage at Chief Election Officer for lying to Ohioans
March 17, 2020
 
 

COLUMBUS—House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement today criticizing the state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, for sharing inaccurate information during a time of chaos when Ohioans are turning to him for truth and guidance.   


“ As the state’s chief election officer, Secretary LaRose is uniquely charged with the proper execution of a fair election for the state of Ohio. That includes sharing accurate information. What has transpired in recent hours has been anything but.


Now in the hours following the chaos, he continues to send out press releases and share information on his website saying the election day has been moved to June 2nd. This is just wrong. As the governor has noted, and state law requires, only the legislature or the court has the power to set or change the election date and thus far, neither entity has done that. Yet LaRose continues to suggest people can continue to vote absentee in direct violation of state law. This too is wrong.


I strongly urge Secretary LaRose to be a good public servant and be transparent and honest with Ohioans about this election and the options they have. What has taken place in the last 24 hours sets a dangerous precedent to our democracy and his overreach must be reigned in immediately.”


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COLUMBUS—House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement today about the confusion and spread of misinformation related to the State Health Director ordering the polls to be closed and in-person voting to not take place today:


“Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus have for days been calling for the legislature to convene to assist with this crisis. We stand ready to answer that call and come back to work.


We never should have arrived at this point. The Ohio Black Legislative Caucus (OLBC) asked days ago for the governor, Speaker and Senate President to reevaluate our preparedness for this election. They called on the legislature to convene to address these concerns and others. We knew our local boards of elections were concerned. We knew the public was concerned. We knew our poll workers were concerned. But they waited and miscalculated and ordered poll workers to not report to the polls before a judge had even made a decision.


I strongly urge the Speaker and the Senate President to call the legislature back into session immediately. “


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Leader Sykes: We Never Should Have Arrived At This Point
Expresses disappointment in the bungling of Ohio's primary election
March 16, 2020
 
 

COLUMBUS—House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement tonight about the confusion caused by the governor’s Monday afternoon recommendation that Election Day be moved to June 2 which was then denied in court and caused chaos and confusion in the late evening hours. Ohio’s Health Director has since ordered polling locations to be closed over coronavirus concerns.


“One of the things I learned in law school was you can never predict what a judge will do.


We never should have arrived at this point. The Ohio Black Legislative Caucus (OLBC) asked days ago for the governor, Speaker and Senate President to reevaluate our preparedness for this election. They called on the legislature to convene to address these concerns and others. We knew our local boards of elections were concerned. We knew the public was concerned. We knew our poll workers were concerned. But they waited and miscalculated and ordered poll workers to not report to the polls before a judge had even made a decision.


I am deeply disappointed with how this situation was handled. This is why Ohio needs to update its archaic system and modernize voting like so many other states have, so we can adapt to emergencies. I hope the missteps we have seen tonight lead to a much deeper discussion at a later time about increasing accessibility to the ballot box.”


Leader Sykes holds a Master’s of Public Health from the College of Public Health and Health Profession at the University of Florida. She was also awarded a Certification in Public Health in 2012 and a law degree from the University of Florida.


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Editor’s note: a copy of OLBC’s letter is attached.

 

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OLBC Responds To Gov. DeWine's Decision To Postpone Voting
Action follows call by OLBC in letter to the governor to extend early voting hours
March 16, 2020
 
 

COLUMBUS—The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) released a statement today about the decision made by Gov. Mike DeWine to postpone the primary election originally scheduled for tomorrow, March 17 to June 2:


“Members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus are appreciative to the Governor’s Administration for listening to the concerns voiced by the OLBC and other citizens about holding an election during the coronavirus outbreak,” OLBC members wrote. “This decision will ultimately save lives while also upholding the right of every citizen to vote and have their voice heard in the political process.”

 
 
  

State Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) today filed House Bill (HB) 557 to allow public bodies to meet and conduct business remotely during a state of emergency.


“In light of all the positive action that state and local leaders are doing to respond to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, this bill allows public bodies to meet and conduct business remotely in order to further slow the spread of pandemics,” said state Rep. Sobecki. “During this extraordinary crisis we are facing due to COVID-19, it is important that public officials have the option to practice prudent behavior by limiting in-person interactions in order to protect their own health, and the health of their communities, in which they have an insignificant public presence.”


HB 557 would allow public bodies to meet remotely only if the Governor has declared a state of emergency, and does not allow them to otherwise disregard Sunshine laws. It also contains an emergency clause that the bill would go into effect immediately if signed by the governor.

 
 
  
 
OLBC Sends Letter To Governor, Speaker And Senate President In Midst Of Coronavirus Crisis
Calls on the General Assembly to convene immediately to address temporary paid leave, extended early voting hours, allocated resources to support local BOEs, no utility shut-offs, food stability and academic relief
March 16, 2020
 
 

 COLUMBUS—The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) released a statement today concerning the letter they sent Saturday to Governor Mike DeWine, Speaker of the House Larry Householder and Senate President Larry Obhof:


“We are calling upon the leadership of the Ohio Senate, Ohio House of Representatives and the Governor’s Administration to work collaboratively and to convene the Ohio General Assembly within 24-48 hours to take necessary legislative actions to help our fellow Ohioans,” OLBC members wrote. “We are encouraging all Ohioans to call their state elected officials to urge the Ohio General Assembly to get back to work on behalf of the people of Ohio.”

 

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House Dems Urge President Trump To Approve Ohio's Request For Federal Aid To Fight Coronavirus

 

Ohio House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today sent a letter to President Trump on behalf of the Ohio House Democrats urging him to approve Ohio’s Major Disaster Declaration request, which would deploy Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to aid the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. 



 
 

House Democrats Announce $15M In Federal Funds To Fight COVID-19 In Ohio

 

House Democratic lawmakers today announced the approval of $15.6M in federal funds for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to support local health departments, increase testing capacity, create public education campaigns, and support other costs associated with the state’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.



 
 

Leader Sykes Outlines Vote By Mail Proposal As State Continues To Battle COVD-19 Outbreak

 

House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today detailed her caucus’ priorities as state lawmakers prepare to return to the Statehouse next week to determine the timeline and procedures by which voters will be able to cast their ballots in the Ohio primary, which was scheduled for March 17, but postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.



 
 

Sobecki Files Bill To Allow Public Bodies To Meet Remotely During States Of Emergency

 

State Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) today filed House Bill (HB) 557 to allow public bodies to meet and conduct business remotely during a state of emergency.