An exception to the General Assembly's lame-duck rule
Ohio legislators did something shocking during the messy final weeks of the 131st General Assembly. Amid the chaos, cynicism and ugliness of the lame-duck session, they also managed to approve a piece of legislation straight out of Schoolhouse Rock! rather than House of Cards.
Senate Bill 332—signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in January—addresses the state's troubling infant mortality rate, among the worst in the country. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support, avoided controversial and irrelevant amendments and was built upon three years of research, analysis and discussion. In other words, it couldn't have been more different than what else occurred in December—a litany of poorly conceived proposals rammed through the Statehouse with little or no public input before the new General Assembly was seated in January.
Two Ohio senators—Shannon Jones, a Republican from conservative Warren County, and Charleta Tavares, a Democrat from liberal Columbus—co-sponsored the infant mortality bill. “In this instance, you had two members, Sen. Tavares and I, who were just very passionate about this, and we made the decision to make this work more important than anything else,” Jones says. Adds Tavares: “People don't believe they can get significant policy changes addressed in a bipartisan way, but you just have to find the right partner, and you have to be willing to take the time to educate.”
Jones and Tavares forged their unlikely partnership in 2013, when Jones had an “aha” moment while listening to testimony about the number of black babies who die before they turn 1 in Franklin County. She turned to her colleague Tavares, who'd been lobbying for action on infant mortality for years, and said, “I hear you now. We're going to do something about this.”
It didn't happen overnight, but Jones delivered. Senate Bill 332 turned out to be a last hurrah, however, as Jones left the Senate in January to become a Warren County commissioner. Tavares predicts the careful, deliberative work of the past three years will keep infant mortality on the radar of the GOP-controlled legislature even without its most forceful Republican advocate. “We got some converts,” she says.