Ohio lawmakers debating state budget, vote expected tonight

Critics held news conference today in Toledo


While state lawmakers are working late to hash out a new two-year state budget, local Democrats staged a news conference to criticize provisions in the Republican-backed bill that they said are detrimental to women's health.

Those include provisions to defund Planned Parenthood's contracts to provide health services to women, not including abortion, and to institute a ban on discussing "gateway sexual activity" and contraception with students during sex education instruction.

Two female University of Toledo students attacked the budget bill at a news conference held today by the Lucas County Democratic Party at its downtown headquarters.

Carrie Russell, a law school student, and Avneet Singh, a medical school student, took turns blasting the campaign against Planned Parenthood as an attack on women's health.

"As a medical student I've seen first-hand how important the type of live-saving critical health care services Planned Parenthood provides are to women. Governor Kasich has stayed silent on these recent attacks on women too long and it's time to let the public know whether he supports these efforts to roll back women's health care or not," Ms. Singh said.

She said more than 100,000 Ohio women and families benefit from Planned Parenthood services such as breast exams, pap smears, and birth control. "The push to defund Planned Parenthood threatens the live-saving health care that these women depend on each day," Ms. Singh said.

Ms. Russell criticized the Republican amendment to prohibit sex education instructors in the public schools from promoting "gateway sexual activity" that could lead students to engage in sex.

"Included in a vote in the state budget today is a provision that would ban discussion in schools about gateway sexual, including even hand-holding," Ms. Russell said. She said Planned Parent educates 22,000 students a year in sex education.

The amendment, introduced by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), defines "gateway sexual activity" only as any activity that encourages students to experiment with sex.

Tennessee last year enacted a law enacted that was spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy. Difficulty among Tennessee lawmakers to define "gateway sexual activity" prohibited under the law gained it the "no holding-hands bill" nickname.. 

The news conference was held at the Lucas County Democratic Party headquarters, and included Lucas County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler but no local elected Democratic women.

The House began debate shortly after 4 p.m. and was expected to consider at debate well into the evening before taking a vote on the bill that then will move to the Senate for consideration.

The bill revamps the $63.3 billion two-year state funding blueprint sent over by Gov. John Kasich, providing more funding for Toledo Public Schools, a proposed cut in personal income-tax rates across the board by 7 percent a year, and an effort to place Planned Parenthood at the bottom of priority list when it comes to distributing federal family planning dollars.