The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus has been on the front lines advocating for policies that are important for enhancing the African American experience and quality of life here in Ohio for over 50 years. We pride ourselves on being champions for equality in various field.
Since our inception we have put a priority in advocating for reforming the criminal justice system, ensuring the fundamental right to vote is not infringed upon, securing a fair playing field for African Americans seeking good-paying jobs, addressing health disparities, combating poverty and strengthening the education system, from pre-k to high school and all the way to our historically black college and universities, such as Central State University and Wilberforce to help ensure a bright future for the next generation of African American leaders here in Ohio. Below you will find a few of the legislative highlights our members and who we are partnering with on addressing some key policy areas.
EDUCATION – Education has been a cornerstone in our mission and purpose sense our founding. Unfortunately, we still see disproportionate rates of the black community continuing to fall behind in education.
- While Ohio’s graduation rates rose to an 83.5% only 67.5% of black high school students graduate which ranked Ohio forty-fifth among fifty states and nine points behind the nation average for black graduation according to the National Center for Education Statistics
From graduate rates, to resources and funding for public schools, as well as further educating our workforce to attract new jobs, we must improve education for our state’s sake. To begin, Senator Sandra Williams in proposed SB 124 which would use the Ohio opportunity grant program to make community and technical college more affordable for low income students and to allow those students to receive credit for the community and technical college programs they are in.
Poverty can hit any of us at any time. Whether you live in a rural or urban environment, the effects of poverty are the same. Unfortunately in black communities across Ohio there seems to be a significant gap in the level of poverty experienced. Like being under educated, if you do not break a cycle of poverty you run the risk of communities having a generational lock into this experience. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus has dedicated itself to taking this issue had on but with partnership with groups like O.U.R.S, the Urban League, and OACAA.
- African Americans make up 34% of households that received Food Stamps in 2016. Additionally, African Americans in the state of Ohio are twice as likely to live poverty; nearly 40 percent of African American communities in Ohio lives in poverty.
The basis of CARE focuses on healthcare, family care, protection against sexual harassment, domestic violence and human trafficking. Senator Charleta Tavares has been a major advocate for healthcare being one of multiple legislative issues that she has championed. In the 131st General Assembly she worked on Sub. S.B. 332 – Implement infant mortality recommendations. SB 332 represented the most comprehensive legislation in the nation to date in our efforts to continue to combat Ohio’s abhorrent infant mortality rate. In 2014, there was some improvement in the overall infant mortality rate however this disproportionately aided Caucasian infants. Disappointingly, the infant mortality rate for African American infants rose from 13.8 deaths per 1,000 live births to 14.8 which is simply unacceptable. This bill aimed to correct this disparity by implementing a variety of strategies. It made improvements in the collection and sharing of data and built on proven interventions. The bill promotes better health outcomes for all by requiring health professional licensing boards to consider race based and gender based disparities, and addressed social determinants in housing assistance programs and homeless shelters to help pregnant women in low-income communities.
Additionally, Senator Tavares had another piece of legislation related to health that was equally important to her, and aligned with the vision for the OLBC and what they advocate for. S.B. 30 – Ohio Family Stability Commission. It Creates in the Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) the Ohio Family Stability Commission and specifies the Commission’s duties in each year of its four-year operation. The Commission is then terminated after it issues a report at the end of its fourth year of operation.
Earlier in 2018, Representative Janine Boyd began work to help lead the charge on legislation that would establish the Ohio Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, which would provide economic stability to working families in times of a medical emergency, when caring for a sick loved one, or welcoming a newborn into the family. Representative Emilia Sykes saw HB 1, as the first bill of the 132 General Assembly in 2018, signed into law which strengthens the protections for victims of dating and domestic violence.
- 15 percent of the African American population is uninsured for healthcare in Ohio
Criminal Justice is not a Democrat or Republican right but a human right. The opportunity to be treated fairly in the eyes of the law and the courts of justice should not be denied to any human being. We know that African Americans in Ohio face a disproportionate number of obstacles when it comes to criminal justice, from sentencing to police and community relations. This issue has spilled over throughout all communities, both rural and urban with the growing opioid epidemic. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus looks to work across the aisle and finally bring reform to Ohio.
- The ratio of incarceration for African Americans in Ohio is 5.6:1 compared to Caucasians
Senator Cecil Thomas, has long been on the front-lines of criminal justice and police relations advocacy, with his background as a former police officer himself. When he arrived at the General Assembly, he was one of long legacy of members that strive to take the mantel of this issue to another level. Back in 2015, Senator Thomas worked hard on Senate Bill 23 “Addressing community-police relations and police training.” The bill Establishes the Ohio Community-Police Relations Commission; Sets the rate of reimbursement to public appointing authorities for the cost of continuing professional training for its law enforcement officers; Requires training in community-focused de-escalation techniques, mental health and special condition response, and cultural sensitivity for those officers; Requires law enforcement agencies to use traffic tickets and investigatory stop forms to record the race of the traffic offender or individual stopped or questioned; Lastly, requires a law enforcement agency to file a report with the Attorney General and the Department of Public Safety if the actions of a law enforcement officer, acting in the performance of the officer’s duties, resulted, or is alleged to have resulted, in any of certain harms.
In Senate Bill 66 which has been sponsored by OLBC members, Senator Edna Brown, Senator Vernon Sykes, Senator Sandra Williams, and Senator Cecil Thomas, along with several other colleagues, this bill works to expand the overriding purposes of felony sentencing to include, in addition to the currently stated purposes, the promotion of the effective rehabilitation of the offender. It would remove the one-year minimum that currently applies when a court sentences an offender to a community control sanction for a fourth or fifth degree felony under the presumption for community control sanctions and expressly authorizes the court to impose a combination of community control sanctions under the provision. In addition to sentencing reform, we strive this year to create better gun laws as seen by a series of bills proposed by Senator Cecil Thomas including SB 150 which looks to prohibit a person convicted of domestic violence or assault of a family member, or a person subject to certain protection orders, from having a firearm. Last, we want to protect citizens who report crimes which can be seen with SB 13 which would protect citizens who record incidents involving law enforcement and civilians. There is much to do in reforming criminal justice and improving community relations, but we believe this is a good starting point this year.
VOTING RIGHTS – Our voting rights are inherent to the success of our democracy. As any other issue it requires constant protection, and is still in need of some more reforms before we can fully stand back an admire the work. While in 2018 there has been progress made with the Senate Joint Resolution 5 in finding a reasonable compromise to redistricting reform, the battle is far from over. While we seek to create fair districts for all Ohioans, as seen with Senator Vernon Sykes along with other members leading the charge on the SJR compromise, we still must address issues such as the purging of the voting rolls which significantly effect African Americans in Ohio. We have seen our former president, Representative Alicia Reece, push the state for a “Voting Bill of Rights” to protect the most sacred right we all have in our democracy. Every year is a battle to protect the voting rights of the communities we serve but again it is especially a focus of ours in 2018, with redistricting reform on the ballot after the passage of SJR 5, in hope that we can begin to bring an end to end gerrymandering in Ohio once and for all.