The period of time between the election and the end of the calendar year — known as “lame duck” session — often sees a flurry of legislative activity. In spite of the pandemic, 2020 is no different, and the Ohio General Assembly has been full steam ahead on numerous pieces of legislation.
Two bills that we have weighed in on during this lame duck session are Senate Bill 40 and House Bill 248.
Senate Bill 40, called the “Forming Open and Robust University Minds” (FORUM) Act, would require public institutions of higher education to adopt new campus free speech policies and report on those policies to the state, prohibit designated free speech zones, and require institutions to host any speaker invited by any member of the campus community.
We opposed this legislation, because it amounts to yet another unfunded mandate by the state in a year when the state has twice cut its funding to higher education. We also believe that campuses have adequately handled issues of free speech without interference, and that this bill invites more problems than it could possibly solve.
Dr. David Jackson, President of the BGSU chapter of the AAUP, testified against the legislation on behalf of OCAAUP to the Senate in the spring, and again to the House in November. You can read his full testimony here, and watch his testimony in the House Higher Education Committee here (the date of the hearing was November 19, and he is called up to testify around 2:05 into the video).
Despite our efforts, the legislation was passed unanimously by the Senate (33-0), although Senate Democrats refused to concur in House amendments, and passed along party line votes (65-27) in the House. It now goes to Gov. DeWine for his signature, which is expected.
House Bill 248 hadn’t been on our radar. In its original form, it strictly dealt with antique firearm sales. However, as bills often do during the lame duck session, it became a “Christmas tree” bill for a host of changes to further relax Ohio’s gun laws.
In a substitute bill that was adopted by the House Federalism Committee on December 2, HB 248 contained numerous amendments, including one that would prohibit colleges and universities from punishing a student who “lawfully” carries a weapon on campus. In other words, if a student with a conceal/carry permit was discovered to have a gun on college/university property, the student could not be disciplined, even if their actions go against the institution’s policies regarding weapons on campus.
Currently, Ohio law leaves the issue of weapons on campus up to each individual institution. We believe that this is the way it should be, so that our colleges and universities can decide what they believe is best based on input from students, staff, and faculty. We are opposed to efforts like this amendment to HB 248, which takes these matters out of local control.
OCAAUP President Martin Kich submitted opponent testimony for the December 2 House Federal Committee hearing outlining our full position, which you can read by clicking here. The legislation is still pending in the committee. We will keep our members apprised of further developments.