By Susan Tebben
A Senate committee approved legislation allowing school districts to enact firearms policies for personnel in only the third hearing on the bill, but the second consecutively that included hours of testimony opposing it.
Senate Bill 317, according to sponsor Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp, seeks to “fix an error” made by the 12th District Appeals Court, who ruled against a lower court. That lower court allowed the Madison Local School District in Butler County to go ahead with creating a firearms authorization policy for school personnel, including teachers.
The appeals court decision is currently being considered by the Ohio Supreme Court, which recently gave the district a quick timeline to file arguments against the appeals court ruling. The state’s highest court also held up the decision of the appeals court, effectively allowing firearms policies in the district pending a final appeal.
In the meantime, the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Coley, passed the bill along party lines Tuesday, after more lengthy spoken opposition testimony. More than 150 people submitted testimony for Tuesday’s hearing alone, the second hearing to have hundreds of submitted statements in opposition, though a few were submitted by the same people who stood in opposition at the previous hearing.
Bill Ison, who lives in the Madison Local district jurisdiction, attended the two opposition hearings, telling the committee about his support of gun ownership, but his dislike of the school district-level allowances.
“I’m opposed to unreasonable gun regulation, but I’m not opposed to reasonable gun regulation,” Ison told the committee on Tuesday.
Ison made similar arguments at a previous committee hearing, but felt it necessary to come back after an amendment was made to the bill that would create a “school marshal program” within schools.
“I don’t understand the need for any of it,” Ison said when asked by Coley how he felt about marshals in school as opposed to teachers being authorized to be armed in schools. “Take some more money from the state government and give these schools the money they need to put professional law enforcement inside these schools.”
Many of those that testified on Tuesday said they wanted to see the use of firearms eliminated from a schools safety measures, but some said while they believed some level of protection is necessary and realistic in this day and age, it’s important that the training and accountability be there as well.
“I ask you to look at it from a different perspective,” said Connor Marrott, a high school student at a Catholic school in Chardon. “What Senate Bill 317 lacks is some control or oversight.”
Marrott, who said he will cast his first election ballot this year, testified that he had asked his teachers for their opinion on the bill as he asked for the work he’d be missing while he spent the day at the Statehouse. He said they found the bill to be unnecessary, but his drive to speak to the senators came from a more personal level.
“I’m here testifying today, missing school, missing an AP Biology test because I believe that SB 317 does put my safety, my sister’s safety, my cousin’s safety, my peers’ safety at risk,” Marriott said.
The bill passed through the committee along party lines, as did three amendments proposed by Democratic ranking member, Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, were tabled.
Craig’s amendments would have allowed local governments to make their own firearms policies as part of Home Rule authority, another would have required public notice any time a board of education authorized armed personnel within their schools, and a final amendment sought to require training and authorization for anyone seeking to enter a school facility armed.
All three were tabled at the motion of committee vice chair Matt Huffman, R-Lima, with only the three Democrats voting to allow discussion on the amendments.
The bill now moves on for a full Senate vote, before moving on for House consideration. The Senate is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, but it is not clear whether the bill will be included in their business.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.