The Ohio House approved a new rules package Tuesday despite objections from Republican lawmakers. The provisions set the guidelines for the upcoming session. House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) advanced the House rules to a vote without allowing for any debate or amendments. Republicans who supported State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) for speaker argued that Stephens excluded them from the process.

Lawmakers elected Stephens as speaker earlier this month to succeed State Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima). The choice came despite the Republican Caucus‘ previous selection in November of Merrin as the new speaker. Although the GOP caucus voted for Merrin as Speaker of the House in December, Stephen fought in collaboration with the Democrats to collect votes and garner a win.

State Representative Scott Oelslager (R- North Canton) gave the series of resolutions outlining the rules, and criteria representatives will have to follow for the ensuing two years.

When it came time to vote on the resolution designating the new majority leadership team, the group supporting Merrin roared in opposition.

Merrin raised a point of order following the vote and reprimanded Stephens for pressing on without considering amendments.

“Representative Josh Williams from Lucas County stood up well ahead of time, and as a duly elected member, Mr. Speaker, he asked to be recognized. You refused to recognize him. He filed an amendment legally, according to the House rules to be considered. It’s completely uncalled for, inappropriate, and a violation of these rules. There’s a next resolution where multiple people are going to stand up to be recognized, and Mr. Speaker I hope you follow our rules and recognize these duly elected members, ” Merrin said.

In response to Merrin’s question, Stephens cited the rules and said that “the speaker is entitled to choose when the House is ready to vote.”

When Oeslager put forward the next resolution on House Rules, Stephens once more put it to a vote without allowing modifications. Merrin’s supporters again voiced their disapproval. But with Democratic backing, Stephens and his Republican supporters were able to pass the new rules package.

Stephens claimed after the vote that he “incorporated input from members” and that “I believe that we have a solid rules package that will ensure efficiencies and improve transparency in the Ohio House.”

Even Republicans who opposed the package as a whole agreed to some modifications, such as restricting the speaker’s ability to terminate staff workers. That protection just should have gone further, according to State Representative Phil Plummer (R-Dayton).

“We wanted additional safeguards. My first amendment was going to be that he couldn’t remove chairs or vice chairs so that they can’t leverage you to vote a certain way and hold your chairmanship over you,” Plummer said.

State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) raised concerns about changes allowing the Rules and Reference Committee to recall a bill it had previously referred. The speaker’s influential committee on rules, which selects where lawmakers hear measures, is usually the last stop before a bill is brought to the floor.

“We’ve now added an additional rule that says the Rules and Reference Committee, unilaterally, can at any time, simply reach down into a committee and snatch a bill back, and put it wherever else they want,” Stewart said.

Stewart also criticized a measure that requires lawmakers to submit committee amendments by midnight the night before a hearing.

“The new default rules prohibit members from offering amendments in committee unless they were submitted well in advance of the meeting agenda even being released. That’s not progress, it’s just a mechanism to prevent members from doing their jobs on both sides of the aisle,” Stewart said.

According to Stewart, not even allowing a debate on the rules is shameful and weak.

“The rules adopted today take away Ohio House members’ ability to have any meaningful role in the committee process by prohibiting even the offering of amendments. It’s a slap in the face to the constituents we serve,” Stewart said.

State Representative Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) told The Ohio Star that Stephens “clearly” does not respect free speech or his colleagues.

“The Speaker of the Ohio House clearly doesn’t respect freedom of speech or his colleagues, and he considers it acceptable to silence the voices of millions of Ohioans,” Ferguson told The Star.

Plummer cautioned that the conflict is far from over despite Stephens’ efforts to move on.

“Republicans are going to hold Jason Stephens’ feet to the fire. He doesn’t get to rule the House like a dictator. Enough is enough,” Plummer said.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Jason Stephens” by Jason Stephens.