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GOP sponsor of LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill hopes for post-Thanksgiving hearing

Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Ulrichsville, right) stands alongside Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) at an event at the Statehouse in 2019, announcing business support for the Ohio Fairness Act. They have sponsored that bill again in this session of the General Assembly.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Ulrichsville, right) stands alongside Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) at an event at the Statehouse in 2019, announcing business support for the Ohio Fairness Act. They have sponsored that bill again in this session of the General Assembly.

There are several bills that are waiting for state lawmakers after the Thanksgiving break. And they include a measure seeking to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity that's been proposed more than 10 times in the last two decades.

All 34 House Democrats are sponsors of the Ohio Fairness Act, along with two Republicans. Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Urichsville), a conservative from rural Tuscarawas County, is a joint sponsor, as he was in 2019. He's also on the Leadership Council for Conservatives Against Discrimination, a national GOP group supporting anti-discrimination legislation.

Hillyer is hopeful the bill will get a hearing, even though other Republicans have proposed bans on trans athletes in girls and women's school sports and on medical treatment for gender transitioning for minors. There was also a provision added to the state budget to allow medical professionals to deny treatment based on their personal beliefs, and advocates have said such a "conscience clause" could affect LGBTQ patients.

"I think those kinds of pieces of legislation deter business and economic growth, which our state desperately needs," Hillyer said in an interview for "The State of Ohio". "But I think some of the legislation is seeking a problem that doesn't exist."

Hillyer said what he calls "a patchwork of of individual laws" in different cities is a problem: "You have these ordinances that differ across the state. And I think businesses and even, you know, folks that maybe aren't as supportive of this as I would like. I think we can all agree that it would be good to have a single policy statewide that that most Ohioans can agree with, and that ultimately protects the fundamental religious liberties that that we all know and cherish."

There are three Republicans backing the Senate version of the Ohio Fairness Act. But House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said in April there is "quite a bit of division" in his caucus over it.

This first week back to work at the Statehouse after Thanksgiving includes only a few committee hearings, but some high-profile bills will be discussed.

One is the bill that would allow COVID vaccine mandate exemptions for almost anyone who wants them and to ban requiring proof of vaccination status gets its first Senate hearing this week. The bill, which was suddenly pushed through a House committee and then passed the House mostly along party lines on November 18, also bans schools and colleges from requiring COVID vaccines that haven't received full FDA approval.

Another Senate committee will hear a bill that would expand medical marijuana for any condition that a doctor approves.

Only one House committee is set to meet. It will hear a Republican-backed bill that requires medical professionals to care for an infant who survives an abortion just as they would a newborn child. Democrats have said such situations haven't happened, and those circumstances would be covered by existing state and federal law anyway.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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.