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Ohio House plans to override Gov. DeWine’s veto of anti-trans bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House is returning from their winter vacation early to attempt to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of anti-transgender legislation. Many Republicans think they have the votes, but it is unclear if they actually do.

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State lawmakers weren’t expected to return to Columbus until the end of January, but a veto has changed that.

Gov. DeWine refused to sign House Bill 68 into law and vetoed it on Friday morning. The bill would have banned trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care like hormone blockers, and also some mental health services for conditions like gender dysphoria, which can be life-threatening distress due to a person’s sex assigned at birth not matching their gender identity. It also would have barred trans middle and high schoolers from participating in athletics with cisgender peers.

Click here to learn more about the legislation.

“Were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government, knows better what is medically best for a child better than the two people who love the child the most — the parents,” DeWine said Friday morning. “These tough, tough decisions should not be made by the government.”

And after months of protesting, Aaron Demlow was finally able to relax this weekend.

“I just felt like I could breathe for a second knowing that kids like me in this state will have a little bit more time to get the health care they need,” said Demlow, a trans activist.

DeWine’s veto came after spending weeks researching and talking to people on each side, which he told News 5 about in a one-on-one interview one week before vetoing the bill.

“I have to get this right,” DeWine said.

One of the people he talked to was Demlow.

“It was just him as a person trying to understand me as a person so that he could make the best-informed position that he could for the good of the state,” Demlow said.

Parents of trans kids like Sam Shim are praising the decision. Shim was worried about his daughter’s safety if the bill was signed.

“She’s been hospitalized twice at Nationwide Children’s for gender dysphoria,” the father said. “As teenagers, there’s often a struggle — and then you add gender dysphoria to the mix and it’s a real challenge.”

But the celebration is short-lived for many LGBTQ+ rights activists.

“Are there enough votes to override the governor’s veto?” Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked state Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania).

“Yes,” Williams said. “In the best interests of children, you don’t allow them to make life-altering decisions with a child’s brain; they cannot comprehend the long-term ramifications.”

Williams is a supporter of the bill, and he and many conservative lawmakers are rallying to override the governor’s veto. They only need 59 votes, but DeWine believes he offered suitable alternatives. He proposed creating administrative rules addressing concerns, like looking into restrictions for full genital surgeries as a minor.

He also agreed with the legislature that there was no comprehensive data on those who receive gender-affirming care and will direct relevant agencies to report findings to the legislature and public about minors and adults seeking care.

All of the proposed rules have worried Demlow, for one, because he doesn’t feel like it is safe to have a registry of trans people.

RELATED: Ohio bill limiting healthcare for LGBTQ+ youth would create a type of registry of trans kids, activist says

“I would hope that with the plan that I’ve outlined, we would be able to work on with the legislature,” DeWine said.

Williams sees that as a power grab.

“The governor is attempting to pull legislative authority from the Statehouse and place it in the executive agencies under his control,” the lawmaker said.

It would have made much more sense for DeWine to just be hands-off, he added.

“You can’t talk out of the side of your neck when you say to the camera that the government shouldn’t be involved — and then 20 minutes later you say, ‘but I’m gonna order the government to be involved,'” Williams said.

The governor’s spokesperson, Dan Tierney, rejected the lawmaker’s assertion that DeWine was power-grabbing.

“The Governor has invited legislators to collaborate with agencies on drafting these administrative rules. The rules must be approved by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), which is a joint legislative committee that provides legislative oversight — a check-and-balance if you will — over administrative rules before they can be adopted,” Tierney said in a written response to News 5. “Given the Governor’s open invitation for collaboration and the statutory check-and-balance powers retained by the legislature, I would disagree with the characterization you provided.”

While the Republicans debate among themselves, Demlow waits.

“Why go against best medical practice?” he asked. “I feel like they would have blood on their hands because I know from personal experience that I would not have survived to 18.”

Behind the scenes

Hours after the veto, House leadership sent out a text to Republican representatives saying that Speaker Jason Stephens “would like to act quickly to override the veto.” The message then asked if the lawmaker would support an override and if they would be available for a session on Jan. 10.

Even lawmakers who had fundraisers scheduled, some out of town, plan to be back for the vote, many of them told News 5.

The plan was officially decided Tuesday evening to have a session on Jan. 10.

What’s next?

A three-fifths vote of the members of the House and Senate is necessary to override the governor’s veto – meaning 59 representatives and 20 senators. The bill passed forward with 64 representatives originally (62 after amendments) and 24 senators.

However, if some lawmakers aren’t able to make the Jan. 10 date or have changed their minds about the legislation, it is possible the lawmakers won’t reach 59.

If it gets overrode?

It would then move to the Senate for their approval. Then it would go into effect after 90 days.

The DOJ and progressive groups are likely to sue, as similar laws are being held up in other states.

In late December, a federal judge in Idaho temporarily blocked their ban from taking effect.

He argued that their law, similar to H.B. 68, violated the equality provision, or the 14th Amendment, of the U.S. Constitution.

“Transgender children should receive equal treatment under the law,” U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise wrote. “Parents should have the right to make the most fundamental decisions about how to care for their children.”

Also in December, a federal judge in Alabama denied the DOJ’s request to pause their law while a lawsuit is being heard.

In the fall, federal judges in Kentucky and Tennessee allowed the states to enforce the bans as lawsuits are being heard.

After a case this summer, a federal judge in Arkansas struck down their ban, saying it was unconstitutional.

It is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will take these cases eventually.

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