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Rep. Sweeney's bipartisan bill allowing virtual public meetings, extending leeway to Ohioans advances to governor's desk

Sweeney cites need for flexibility in government during pandemic, urges virtual testimony also be extended to Ohio House
November 19, 2020
Bride Rose Sweeney News

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COLUMBUS — State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) today announced House Concurrence on Senate amendments to her House Bill (HB) 404, bipartisan legislation originally intended to allow trustees at state institutions of higher education to attend meetings virtually. HB 404 now moves to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

“House Bill 404 shows that government can be flexible; that it can be practical during a pandemic. It’s so important that government doesn’t get in its own way when serving the public in a time of crisis,” said Rep. Sweeney. “We’ve seen a remarkable increase in public participation through virtual meetings and that should continue beyond the pandemic. If this legislature can offer the flexibility of virtual public meetings to state trustees, there’s no reason why virtual testimony can’t be also be extended to the Ohio House.”

“I was glad to be a part of this bipartisan push for greater flexibility in state law to help our students, teachers, local governments and all Ohioans. It was very important to my colleagues and me that this legislation lessen the burden on our teachers, who have been one of the many unsung heroes of this pandemic, by holding them harmless on state testing and teacher evaluations in the fall.”

As amended by the Ohio Senate, House Bill 404 will:

  • Ensure that vital CARES Act funds, meant for Ohio’s local governments, do not go to waste;
  • Extend the authorization for virtual public meetings until July 1, 2021;
  • Further extend licenses that expired during the pandemic;
  • Offer some much-needed certainty to Ohio students and their families by ensuring that students can have meals delivered and get to school;
  • Provide flexibility to teachers on their evaluations;
  • Allow school districts to be held harmless on state testing this fall;
  • Make changes to allow continued participation in the College Credit Plus Program during the pandemic;
  • Allow state retirees to come back in critical areas like DRC without penalty.

As originally written, HB 404 offers flexibility for trustees by allowing state institutions of higher education to adopt their own electronic communication policies. HB 404 is completely permissive and sets a floor of minimum standards for a policy allowing virtual trustee meetings. The bill will further allow state trustees to continue conducting vital operations in a safe and effective manner during COVID-19.  

Following the passage of HB 404, Sweeney called for virtual testimony to also be extended to the Ohio House in order to protect the health and safety of Ohioans testifying on legislation. The request comes after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 prior to House Civil Justice Committee this morning.  

For months, House Democrats have implored Republican House leadership to adopt measures to create a safe workplace environment inside the Ohio Statehouse. During session today, Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) introduced yet another resolution to implement a mask mandate for members, which was subsequently struck down in a party-line vote. Additionally, Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) sent a letter to Speaker Cupp on Aug. 25 urging him to permit citizens to testify via video conference.