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Ohio House updates 'sexting' law related to minors

• Jun 27, 2018 at 10:22 PM

COLUMBUS — State Reps. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) and Jeff Rezabek (R-Clayton) today applauded the House for passing legislation they jointly sponsored that provides another option to Ohio’s courts when dealing with juveniles charged with possessing sexually explicit digital material, or engaging in “sexting” with a minor.

It was one of several bills OK’d today by the Ohio House of Representatives.

This bill takes into account the growing dilemma of juveniles who engage in “sexting” with other juveniles and the charges that may be filed by prosecutors by law. House Bill 355 prohibits anyone under the age of 19 from creating, distributing, or possessing sexually explicit digital material that depicts a minor through a phone or computer.

The law serves as an alternative option for prosecutors when determining whether to charge the offender with a felony, which has lifelong implications, or nothing at all. Offenders under the age of 19, and in which the victim was less than four years younger than the offender and over the age of 13, would then be eligible for a charge which carries with it a mandatory diversion program, which would cover a host of issues related to sexting, educating our youth about the dangers of doing so.

Provisions were placed in the bill to ensure that prosecutors can charge a more serious offense under qualifying circumstances if they want to pursue a heightened charge, rather than the diversion program.

Rep. Hill introduced the legislation after an incident in his district where a young man committed suicide after he faced potentially felonious charges from sexting with his girlfriend. Rep. Hill hopes the bill will give these individuals a second chance. As scenarios differ case-by-case, House Bill 355 will give prosecutors more options to consider the facts of what happened and seek an appropriate punishment.

“I’m happy to see this bill pass that will give young people a second chance when they have made a stupid mistake,” Rep. Hill said. “I do not condone the activity, but I don’t believe a young person should be a felon or sex offender as a result of a first offense for sexting.”

Rep. Rezabek utilized his knowledge of the juvenile court system while working on the legislation, and hopes to allow prosecutors to save the felony charges for the truly heinous individuals who are preying on juveniles, and possessing or distributing child pornography.

“I’m very proud the House has passed this piece of legislation,” Rep. Rezabek said. “Along with Chairman Hill, we were able to see his vision through in helping juveniles who made a mistake to fix and correct their actions.”

The bill will now go to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

Here is a roundup of other legislation that received House approval today:

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House OKs legislation providing increased protection for search and rescue animals

State Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Chesterland) announced the passage of House Bill 349, legislation that adds increased protections for volunteer search and rescue (SAR) dogs and horses, bringing punishment for their mistreatment up to par with that of law enforcement animals.

Ohio has a number of professional search and rescue volunteers who answer calls from law enforcement to assist in search and rescue activities. This can include missing persons situations or a human remains detection search. While the majority of search and rescue missions are lower risk when compared to that of a police animal, there is always the possibility that an individual may wish to obstruct the search efforts or even bring harm to the animals performing this important task.

“The idea for House Bill 349 was brought to me by a constituent, Rob Davis, who is an expert in search and rescue activities,” said LaTourette. “It is particularly rewarding to pass legislation that comes directly at the request of a constituent who is able to be provide vital knowledge to make sure the legislation would be effective when enacted.”

Dr. Rob Davis and his wife Beth, both certified professional volunteer search and rescue technicians and K-9 handlers, operate Northeast Ohio Search and Rescue, a 501(c)(3) public charity. They are active in providing SAR responses, and focus on SAR education and advocacy.

“Across Ohio, volunteer search and rescue professionals and their canine and equine partners assist law enforcement agencies in helping reunite lost and missing persons with their families. These brave dogs and horses often face the same risks of their law enforcement counterparts,” said Dr. Davis. “House Bill 349 offers SAR dogs and horses the same protection from interference and harm as that offered to police dogs and horses. House Bill 349 is an important step forward for Ohio in recognizing the value of SAR professionals in our state.”

House Bill 349 now goes to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

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Bill protecting consumer data OK’d by House

State Rep. Louis W. Blessing III (R-Colerain) applauded the House passage of Senate Bill 220, which protects consumers by encouraging businesses to heighten their level of cybersecurity. Before the House floor vote, Senate Bill 220 was heard in the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which Blessing chairs.

Senate Bill 220 protects consumers by incentivizing businesses to voluntarily provide a higher level of cybersecurity. The legislation requires businesses to create, maintain, and comply with a written cybersecurity program that protects personal information in order to be eligible for an affirmative defense in the case of a data breech. The scope of the cybersecurity program requirements is dependent on several factors, including the size and scope of the entity and sensitivity of the information being stored.

“I’m proud to stand alongside Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in supporting legislation that strengthens cybersecurity in Ohio,” said Blessing. “As technology becomes more and more prevalent in our lives, Ohioans deserve peace of mind knowing that their online information has not been compromised.”

Senate Bill 220 now goes back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

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Ohio House votes to extend pension benefits for certain non-teacher school employees

The Ohio House today voted with bipartisan support for House Bill 572, legislation that allows county developmental disabilities board employees who perform full-time services in a school to be eligible for a full year of service with the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) if they are employed throughout the academic year, which is only nine months.

“These employees work tirelessly for disabled students and it is important that they continue to be granted the same service credit for their pension that teachers are,” said Scherer.

While these employees have been granted a full year of credit previously, it was recently determined that this was not a practice that was explicitly allowed in Ohio law. State Representatives Gary Scherer (R-Circleville) and Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) introduced the legislation in order to rectify the reversal of a 30-year policy.

“This bill was a provision included in another OPERS bill that I was asked to introduce in order to start a discussion,” Scherer explained. “After listening to many constituents and others throughout the state, I am pleased that the original bill is not moving forward. However, this issue in particular emerged as a common-sense policy that codifies a long standing practice which needs to be clarified in the law.”

According to committee testimony, by not making this change for these employees working for developmental disability boards, they must work 36 years to earn a full 30 years of service. By making these employees eligible for a full year of credit, the legislation establishes parity in the retirement service credit system.

House Bill 572 will now proceed to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

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Bill revising Ohio teacher evaluations gets House approval

State Rep. Nathan Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) today applauded passage of their jointly-sponsored legislation by the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 540 seeks to create a more accurate, improved method for teacher evaluations, and requires the Ohio Department of Education to utilize the official recommendations of the Educator Standards Board to revise the current Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). The revised OTES would receive a one-year trial period.

“Updating these evaluations came as a result of recommendations from teachers, administrators, schools boards, higher education members and members of the General Assembly,” Rep. Gavarone said. “I am proud of the work that went into establishing these modifications that ensure educators will be provided with reliable and relevant information to help them meet the specific needs of their students.”

“House Bill 540 is much needed legislation that will streamline the process of how we evaluate our teachers in Lorain County and across Ohio,” Rep. Manning said. “This will allow teachers to focus more on the growth and educational development of their students rather than test scores, while also ensuring educators are properly assessed.”

The recommendations aim to create a process providing teachers with feedback that is specific and helpful, while more accurately reflecting necessary improvement. Among other updates to the OTES rubric, student growth would no longer count for 50 percent of an evaluation, but two kinds of “high quality” data utilized instead as measures of student learning.

Shared attribution would be removed from the rubric, deemed an inaccurate measurement of performance and student growth. Alternative framework components would be officially added, meaning teachers could still be evaluated by such indicators as student surveys and the need for a separate alternative framework eliminated.

The recommendations suggest that the timing and structure of observations be more in tune with teachers, encouraging them to focus on improvement and growth. ESB also says that teachers who are rated “accomplished” or “skilled” must be provided with off-year resources for professional growth, requiring them to attend conferences and to submit professional growth plans.

House Bill 540 was drafted in close partnership with the Ohio Education Association (OEA), ensuring prioritization of teachers’ needs. The bill is supported by the OEA and the Ohio Educator Standards Board. Having passed out of the House, House Bill 540 now awaits consideration by the Ohio Senate.

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House passes bill penalizing nonconsensual distribution of sexual images

State Reps. Nathan Manning (R-N. Ridgeville) and John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake) today announced passage of their bipartisan, jointly-sponsored legislation by the Ohio House of Representatives. House Bill 497 seeks to prevent instances of what is known as “revenge pornography” by penalizing nonconsensual distribution of private sexual images, as long as intent existed to harm the subject of the image. House Bill 497 also allows for civil action against the convicted offender.

Under the bill, civil action may be filed for a temporary restraining order or for such matters as compensatory damages and reasonable attorney’s fees. House Bill 497 also prevents an institution of higher learning from withholding financial assistance on the grounds that a student was a victim of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, and also prevents such institutions from disciplining that student for the same reason. The bill extends these protections to licensing authorities, preventing them from refusing to license or to renew a license for victims.

“This important legislation will make needed changes to our civil and criminal code to provide victims the resources to fight back and also deter others from being victims in the future,” Manning said.

“The outcome of the malicious distribution of private sexual images can cause a multitude of personal and professional issues, in addition to the humiliation and embarrassment a victim may feel when their most intimate exchanges are shared with the world,” said Rogers. “This legislation would join Ohio with these other states to extend protections to thousands of Ohioans who would otherwise have no legal protections in these cases.”

House Bill 497 classifies the first offense as a first degree misdemeanor, and under certain conditions, distributing material to juveniles would classify as a third degree misdemeanor. Under the bill, repeat offenses may also be classified as felonies in certain circumstances.

Having passed out of the House, House Bill 497 awaits consideration by the Ohio Senate.

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House passes bill addressing authorities by certain Ohio townships

State Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.) today commended the Ohio House for passing legislation he sponsored that makes a number of reforms regarding the responsibilities of 1,308 townships in Ohio.

House Bill 500, which has the support of the Ohio Township Association, empowers these townships by authorizing them to act on many items without seeking permission from the General Assembly. The bill makes a number of reforms, including:

• Requiring a board of township trustees to select a chairperson every year

• Allowing political subdivisions to file an issue on a ballot, beginning in 2021

• Authorizing townships to act on certain zoning issues

• Allowing political subdivisions to levy a property tax to fund capital improvements

• Prohibiting a board of county commissioners from adopting a resolution to vacate a public road that is a township road without approval

• Eliminating the requirement that a township’s annual inventory be filed with the county engineer

“As a former township trustee, I’m proud to carry House Bill 500 on behalf of Ohio’s 1,308 townships and grateful to my House colleagues for their support,” said Carfagna. “These measures will allow for improved service and operational flexibility at one of our most local, responsive, and effective levels of government.”

The bill ultimately allows townships to perform regular duties that other local governments are able to do without approval from the legislature.

House Bill 500 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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Bill to update Ohio's voting machines heads to governor

The Senate concurred today on House changes to Senate Bill 135, legislation sponsored by State Senator Frank LaRose (R-Hudson). This bill provides funding to assist counties in upgrading their outdated voting equipment.

“I’m thankful that our colleagues in the House gave prompt attention to our bill and I’m proud it passed and with broad bipartisan support,” LaRose said. “Voters must have confidence they are casting their ballot on a reliable and accurate voting machine. This is why it was so important for us to be proactive in addressing this issue.”

Counties will be given a fixed amount based on the number of registered voters to help with the startup costs that are associated with buying new machines. The main portion of the funds are then distributed proportionally based on the percentage of registered voters in each county.

Of the $114.5 million allocated for Ohio's next generation of voting machines, $10 million will be general revenue funding for reimbursement of counties which have already purchased new machines. The remaining funds will then be used to help counties who will be purchasing machines in the future.

Senate Bill 135 requires the establishment of a bipartisan advisory committee tasked with providing input throughout the process. The bill also provides that steps will be taken throughout the entire process to ensure transparency.

“With today’s concurrence vote in the Ohio Senate, Senate Bill 135 has cleared its final legislative checkpoint and is now headed for the Governor’s desk,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said. “I commend Senate President Obhof, Speaker Smith, and Senator LaRose for their leadership on this matter and for working to ensure that Ohio’s 88 counties have new election technology in place well ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election.

“I look forward to working with the county boards to purchase and implement new voting machines once the governor signs this legislation,” Husted said.

LaRose's proposal is the product of months of collaboration between various groups, including the Office of the Secretary of State, as well as the Ohio County Commissioner's Association and Ohio Association of Elections Officials. The Secretary of State and Department of Administrative Services are the agencies accountable for negotiating costs and administering the entire procurement process for these new machines.

Senate Bill 135 will now move to the Governor for further consideration.

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Ohio House approves patient-friendly legislation that increases price transparency for prescription drugs

State Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) today applauded the passage of bipartisan legislation he joint sponsored with Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton). House Bill 479 would expand access to affordable prescription drugs by increasing price transparency and ensuring a fair payment process for pharmacies and patients.

House Bill 479 seeks to reduce the administrative burden placed on pharmacists by Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), which act as third-party intermediaries between pharmacies and health insurers. By requiring that patients are informed of the most affordable payment option for their prescriptions, PBMs will be unable to direct the pharmacy to charge the patient more than the cash price of a drug. By inflating this cost to patients, PBMs take a portion of the patient’s co-pay, driving up costs.

The legislation also prohibits PBMs from including a provision in their contract with a pharmacy that forbids pharmacists from informing patients of the cheapest method to purchase their prescriptions. For example, if a copayment is more than the price of a drug without insurance, the pharmacist must inform the patient. The patient may then decide to pay less for their prescription without going through their insurance.

“The issues of price transparency and rising drug costs have been a priority of mine since entering office,” said Lipps. “For too long, PBMs have used predatory practices to target consumers and independent pharmacies. I am proud Ohio is taking a lead role to end these deceiving practices, while improving transparency and lowering out-of-pocket drug costs,” said Lipps.

The practices of PBMs have been under increasing scrutiny from state lawmakers and the media across the nation in recent months. Among other reforms, House Bill 479 is a patient-focused bill that works to keep patients informed on the price of their medication, increasing transparency and ultimately reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

The bill passed the House unanimously and now awaits discussion in the Senate.

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Ohio House takes steps to protect religious freedom in Ohio schools

State Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem) and Sarah LaTourette (R-Chesterland) today announced that the Ohio House has passed legislation to clarify current law regarding religious expression in schools.

House Bill 428, which they joint sponsored, requires public schools to allow students who want to meet for the purpose of religious expression the same access to school facilities given to secular school groups.

“House Bill 428 will protect the rights of students by ensuring that a student enrolled in a public school may engage in religious expression in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to engage in secular activities,” said Ginter.

Additionally, the bill prohibits schools district from limiting religious expression to lunch or other non-instructional time and restricting the expression of religious beliefs in homework or artwork.

“House Bill 428 provides clarity to school districts that faith-based organizations are to be treated the same as secular organizations, including having the same assess to school facilities,” said LaTourette. “Being able to joint-sponsor this legislation with Representative Ginter, a true leader in the faith community, has been an honor.”

Also known as the “Ohio Student Liberties Act of 2018,” House Bill 428 now awaits consideration by the Ohio Senate.


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