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Senate Approves Heartbeat Bill As Legislature Continues Push to Pass Bills Governor Says He'll Veto

Gov. John Kasich (left), Speaker Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) and Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) all spoke at the unveiling of the permanent display of Ohio's two constitutions at the Statehouse in November. But they did not appear together.

The Ohio Senate has approved the so-called “Heartbeat Bill," which bans abortion at the point when a fetal heartbeat is detected. The bill now goes back to the House. When it reaches Governor John Kasich, he has said he’ll veto it. He’s also said he’ll veto a “Stand Your Ground” self-defense bill if it comes to him. 

During the lame duck session, why are legislators working to pass measures the governor has said he’ll veto? 

Kasich has been clear about the Heartbeat Bill – he vetoed it in 2016. And he’s also warned lawmakers not to send him the Stand Your Ground bill. The version that passed both chambers doesn’t eliminate the “duty to retreat” provision, but still shifts the burden to prove self-defense to prosecutors. So Kasich won’t say what he’ll do with it.

“I don’t want to do that now. Everybody knows how strongly I feel about all this and when the time is right – it’s like fine wine. It will be revealed when it’s read,” Kasich said.

But these veto threats haven’t stopped legislative leaders from pushing the bills forward. The change to “Stand Your Ground” came in the Senate, and President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said he and his Republican supermajority wanted that to pass, along with the Heartbeat Bill.

“I actually drafted it in its similar format two years ago. I’m supportive of the bill. Most members are supportive of the bill,” Obhof said.

House Speaker Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) said abortion and gun rights are big concerns for his constituents, regardless of how Kasich feels about these bills.

“Clearly he hasn’t campaigned in my area because those are all important issues, as they are to our caucus. And what I would say is, we’re a separate branch of government,” said Smith. “The will of the caucus is the will of the caucus, and what the governor does is what he’s going to do, but that won’t affect our direction.”

For years, the Ohio legislature has passed bills limiting abortion rights and expanding gun rights, so in a way these bills aren’t a huge surprise. And conservative lawmakers have expressed some frustration with Kasich, over what they see as overreaches in spending and with Medicaid expansion – while Kasich’s national profile grew during his run for president and beyond, as he modeled himself as a bipartisan bargainer. 

But there is still a lingering question of whether the decision to pass these bills only to have to come back and override vetoes is really about Kasich’s relationship with his fellow Republicans state lawmakers. Kasich suggested recently that he wants to talk about that, but can’t right now.

“The first seven years were really ‘can do’. And we’ve been, there’s been a bogging down here. I’ll have much more to say about that at some point in the future,” Kasich said.

Obhof has also hinted at some distance with Kasich, telling reporters recently that “I haven’t spoken to the governor about firearms in months.” When pressed on when he last spoke to the governor, Obhof said, “I don’t remember the date.”

And Smith even publicly implied before a gathering of commissioners and engineers from Ohio’s 88 counties that lawmakers are looking forward to a new governor as they continue to struggle with the current one – over the Heartbeat Bill, Stand Your Ground and even a possible salary increase for state, county and local elected officials.

“It’s also not welcomed by this administration that we take on a pay raise bill right now, probably to the extent that they’ll try to veto that. So. I only say that because this is not surprising to this group. It’s been consistent with what we’ve dealt with in a lot of ways,” said Smith.

The pay raise would have to be voted on now or elected officials would have to wait another two years for an increase. But some bills are moving quickly because the budget will be the top priority for lawmakers starting when they’re sworn in in January.

And while incoming governor Mike DeWine said during the campaign that he would support both Stand Your Ground and the Heartbeat Bill, there are no guarantees. DeWine even sounded a bit cagey when asked about those bills recently.

“There’s only one governor at a time. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the governor of the state of Ohio today. I’m not. For many, many purposes, people can look to our campaign and look to my long career and my positions of, you have a pretty good idea of what I think about different issues,” DeWine said. “But I’m not going to comment specifically on any legislation today.”

Overall, the long-suspected strained relationship between lawmakers and the governor is quite a departure from just two years ago, when many campaigned for Kasich and helped him win the Ohio presidential primary, and from 2011, when Kasich took office.  Lawmakers created JobsOhio in two months at Kasich’s direction, and that year he took the heat when voters overwhelmingly rejected a collective bargaining reform law that most Republican lawmakers wanted.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.