NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, and Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity call on Ohio House leadership to immediately implement virtual testimony opportunities for public testimony on legislation. The legislative leadership must be fully transparent about the numbers of members testing positive and the number of members waiting on test results. We applaud the House and Senate Democratic caucuses for sharing positive cases and test numbers with the public. The blatant disrespect and disregard for the health and safety of the general public entering the Statehouse, and the staff and members who work in the building must end.

In the email exchange explained below, we are providing one example of how this is not currently happening.

In three separate emails on November 30, Rep. Stephen Hambley’s legislative aide stated that virtual testimony to the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee was impossible, even though it had been done in a past hearing. In two of those emails, the aide falsely stated that it was against House Rules. The aide said that the committee was taking “all precautions.” The aide informed URGE, “there was no spread at the November 19 committee meeting.” On December 2, Rep. Hambley chaired the committee without a mask as they accepted testimony from unmasked witnesses and voted on Senate Bill 27 and other bills.

Media reports now indicate that the chairman himself had at that time already tested positive twice, first on November 23 and again on November 28. Additionally, his aide tested positive on November 19. Instead of immediately isolating anyone who had close contact with this aide, the November 19 committee hearing proceeded. The only change put in place was to ask witnesses to speed up their testimony to shorten the hearing length. Rep. Hambley’s return to the hearing room came on December 2, four days after his last positive test.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jaime Miracle: “It is completely unacceptable for Republican leaders to continue to ignore the reality of this global pandemic and put people’s lives at risk. In the last week, the Ohio House has considered two different bills limiting access to abortion care in Ohio. Republican members of the Ohio House continue to insist upon making reproductive health care decisions for millions of Ohioans, but they can’t even manage to follow basic CDC guidance to protect the health of people they are coming in contact with. It is more clear than ever that personal, private medical decisions must be left to patients in consultation with medical professionals, not legislators in the Ohio Statehouse.”

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio Vice President of Government Affairs Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin: “What we’re seeing from Republican leadership in the Ohio statehouse is total disregard for the health of legislators, staff, and the public. They are using this lame duck session to stage an all-out assault on reproductive freedom and access to health care, but even as they do, the absence of safety protocols and their refusal to implement virtual testimony has led to an ever-growing outbreak on both sides of the aisle. Even the simplest, most understandable CDC guidance – that individuals who have COVID-19 should isolate themselves until at least 7 days after a negative test result – has been thrown to the wind. It’s time to put an end to this charade, implement common-sense safeguards, and stop attacking health care access in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century.”

Sarah Inskeep, Ohio State Policy & Movement Building Director for URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity: “The mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic has pushed tens of thousands into poverty, decimating low income, Black, Indigenous, disabled, LGBTQ+, and other communities of color and amplifying the white supremacy that has been built into our institutions, laws, and everyday lives. In turn, Ohio’s extremist lawmakers have only made it harder for these communities to participate in the legislative process, ignoring demands for COVID-19 relief to focus instead on limiting access to essential health care like abortion and undermining equitable access to democracy. They continue to blame young people for the collapsing economy, for spreading the virus, for not voting, and for lacking faith in capitalism and democracy. But the reality is Ohio’s extremist politicians and their failed leadership are to blame. Ohioans deserve better.”

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