GOP standoff in Ohio over abortion, gun measure averted
COLUMBUS (AP) — A brewing standoff between legislative Republicans in Ohio and their same-party governor over some big-ticket policy issues was averted — perhaps permanently — during a whirlwind week at the Statehouse.
Proposals restricting early abortions and a gun owner’s “duty to retreat” that outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich opposes appeared poised for legislative action as lawmakers returned to work after November’s election. A Medicaid expansion he’s fiercely defended also faced a looming threat.
Yet, by week’s end, action on all three issues appeared unlikely. Here’s why:
PROTESTS AND PUSHBACK
Protesters flocked to the Statehouse this week to oppose passage of the heartbeat bill, which would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Some health-care providers also oppose the measure. Abortion-rights groups also organized testimony by a band of dozens of “abortion storytellers,” who used their personal stories to highlight potential negative impacts of the bill.
Ohio Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion group, remains neutral on the bill due to concerns over its constitutionality.
Dozens of groups also came out this week in support of Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, the government insurance program covering 700,000 low-income Ohioans — roughly half who seek addiction or mental health services. The coalition especially touted the economic benefits of the expansion.
A survey found that nearly 300,000 Ohioans enrolled through the expansion were able to leave Medicaid between their income increased. Seven in 10 enrollees who left did so because their economic situation improved and 83 percent reported health coverage made it easier for them to find work.
Statehouse Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate, but they aren’t all in agreement on how to proceed on abortion, gun and health care issues.
Some moderate Republicans side with Kasich on the three disputed issues, or are vulnerable in their districts if they support legislation viewed as too conservative for the state’s sizeable moderate middle.
On the stand-your-ground proposal, for example, the Kasich administration is pushing back against the influence of the NRA as the governor tries to build consensus around a set of “common sense” restrictions on gun access. Kasich accelerated the effort after the deadly shooting in Las Vegas.
(Still, GOP lawmakers stripped the stand-your-ground provisions but sent Kasich the broader gun bill where they used to reside, which could prompt a veto of its own. The legislation expands gun access to off-duty police and at subsidized housing complexes, as well as phasing in pre-emption of many local gun restrictions.)
Kasich also parts with his Republican successor, Gov.-elect Mike DeWine, on some issues, including the heartbeat bill. Since DeWine says he’s willing to sign such a bill, lawmakers may be hesitant to take the dramatic step of overriding a same-party governor’s veto — even if they voted for the bill originally. Their easier path is to wait until DeWine’s in charge.
All three of these hot-button issues could still re-emerge before the session ends, but the calendar is now on Kasich’s side.
The heartbeat bill stalled in an Ohio Senate committee as amendments are considered. The panel meets again Tuesday. The stand-your-ground provisions were removed from another gun bill, possibly to be drafted into a stand-alone bill that also would require committee approval.
Even if both were approved by their committees, it would take a day to get to the Senate floor and probably another day to get the bill to Kasich. He then has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to act on the bills. That would take things into the week between Christmas and New Year’s — when it could be difficult to get the number of lawmakers to the Statehouse necessary to override Kasich’s promised vetoes.
The same scenario holds for overriding Kasich’s veto of a budget provision freezing new Medicaid expansion enrollment and preventing those who drop off the program from re-enrolling.