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House Democratic leader reflects on 2016, looks to priorities and challenges in new General Assembly

Eyes anti-heroin efforts, economic proposals as priorities in the new year
December 21, 2016
Democratic Newsroom

In what proved to be an unpredictable year for government and politics across the nation, Ohio House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) says his caucus found both challenges and successes in the Buckeye State. 

From helping to stop sweeping unemployment insurance cuts – at the beginning of 2016 and again at the end of legislative session in Dec. – to fighting back against GOP-led, eleventh-hour lawmaking that brought to the governor’s desk government shutdown legislation; sweeping intrusions on a woman’s sovereignty to make her own healthcare decisions; and a toppling of several self-government principles in Ohio, Democratic lawmakers have faced a busy, and at times contentious, legislative session in 2016. 

This year also saw members from both parties come together, something Strahorn believes was productive, to successfully take on issues like medical marijuana, charter-school reforms and infant mortality. That approach, the Leader says, was also helpful in tempering tax shifting proposals, attacks on working people and cuts to school funding. 

“It is easy for a party that controls every aspect of state government to get sidetracked with initiatives that are heavy on politics and light on good public policy, but by keeping communication open and standing up for fundamental American values when they are threatened, we have been effective in influencing legislation and having a credible voice in policy debates,” said Strahorn. 

Though the Ohio legislature finally passed opioid omnibus legislation during lame duck session after months of inaction, a record number of Ohioans are losing their lives each day to heroin and opioids while the Buckeye State leads the nation in overdose deaths. This summer, House Democratic lawmakers called for a unified, strategic approach to combat the opioid epidemic and called on Gov. John Kasich to declare the opioid epidemic a statewide emergency, release emergency funding and increase long-term funding for treatment.  

“The opioid addiction epidemic is one of the greatest challenges facing our state and the well-being of Ohio families,” said Strahorn. “The devastation wrought by drug abuse touches all corners of the states, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status; from suburban Columbus to Portsmouth to Cleveland, Ohio families are losing their loved ones. Instead of throwing different ideas at the wall to see what sticks, the state needs to recognize the opioid epidemic for the public health emergency that it is and advance a unified, strategic approach.” 

Leader Strahorn indicates his caucus will double down in the new year on their work toward a more unified and strategic approach – one that includes increased funding – in slowing the rise of opioids and heroin in Ohio. 

“Heroin and opioid overdose deaths are perhaps the single biggest quality-of-life indicator that we need to get under control in Ohio,” said Strahorn. “Talking about prevention efforts with young people isn’t enough – we need real resources on the ground.” 

In addition to redoubled efforts against the statewide heroin epidemic, the Leader also sees an opportunity to continue an important conversation about the health and well-being of working people in the state. Earlier in the year, Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate put forward an eight-point economic plan they say will strengthen and grow the middle class in Ohio. Specifically, they offered legislation to ensure equal pay for equal work, provide paid family leave, increase the minimum wage, rebalance Ohio’s tax responsibility and create jobs through infrastructure rebuilding and advanced energy investments. 

“Sometimes knee-jerk policymaking and legislative culture wars can overshadow our ability to improve the quality of life for the majority of Ohioans – not just now, but for generations of Ohioans to come,” Strahorn said. “We all generally want the same things – good jobs, economic stability, quality schools, access to world-class healthcare and the freedom to make decisions we think are best for our families. I believe we have the ability and responsibility to set politics aside and look to our state’s long-term health.” 

Despite Democratic efforts to focus on economic issues this year, legislative attention turned toward erecting barriers to access to women’s healthcare, with Republican lawmakers overriding the fierce objections of House Democratic members to push through an ideologically-driven measure to defund Planned Parenthood and two separate and sweeping intrusions into women’s decisions about their own healthcare. Both restrictions on access to healthcare – the six-week abortion ban and 20-week ban – did not include exceptions for rape or incest.  

“Decades after Roe v. Wade, Ohio women continue to face politically-motivated attacks on their access to healthcare that strip them of sovereignty over their own bodies,” Strahorn said. “We need to refocus legislative efforts away from intruding on the most personal, private healthcare decisions, and instead to issues we all believe are important – a stronger economy, better paying jobs, increased access to care, safe communities, affordable education. The list goes on. There are more than enough issues that need our full attention.”