A lame-duck assault on our rights in Ohio

Emily Shaw writes from Ohio about the right-wing offensive in Trump's America.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Gage Skidmore)Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Gage Skidmore)

AFTER HIS unexpected "victory" in the November election, it didn't take long for Donald Trump's right-wing fan club to begin putting his reactionary program into practice.

From the spike in hate crimes and Islamophobic attacks by supporters to the first frightening legislative moves by Republican in Congress to further dismantle the social safety net, many of our fears about a Trump presidency were already becoming reality before he even took office.

Republican politicians in Ohio didn't certainly didn't waste any time during the so-called "lame-duck" legislative session between the election and when the legislature's new session begins.

Lawmakers are even less accountable to their constituents during a "lame duck" session, which allows them to fast track unpopular bills into law. Many of the bills passed in Ohio after November 8 had been introduced multiple times over the past few years, but they never had the political traction to get them passed and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich until after Trump's election.

Ohio legislators took advantage of the lame-duck session to force through laws that further curb reproductive rights, establish open-carry gun laws, restrict increases in the minimum wage, and limit solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle.

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THE REPUBLICANS' drive for anti-choice legislation in Ohio made the biggest news nationally.

As SocialistWorker.org reported at the beginning of January, the Ohio state house added the misnamed "Heartbeat Bill" to legislation originally designed to expedite the reporting of child abuse and neglect by medical professionals. This measure, which would ban abortions after six weeks, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, was opposed by Ohio Right to Life, the largest anti-choice organization in the state, for being "too extreme."

In the same session, Republicans introduced Senate Bill 127 to ban abortion after 20 weeks, without any exceptions for survivors of rape and incest. Current state law already bans abortion after 20 weeks, unless a doctor conducts a viability test to determine that the fetus cannot be carried to term. Under the new law, all abortions past 20 weeks are banned without tests for viability.

Kasich ultimately used a line-item veto to reject the "Heartbeat Bill," but he signed the 20-week ban into law.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, explained in a statement where Kasich and the Republicans are headed:

These bans are a deliberate attempt to make abortion illegal in the state of Ohio. If signed into law, these bills would force women to travel long distances and cross state lines to access abortion. For many women, the expense and time these restrictions would force upon them would make access impossible.

Any defense to challenges to anti-choice legislation, including the "Heartbeat bill," would be funded by the state through the misallocation of workers' tax money, adding insult to injury in an onslaught of anti-women and anti-worker attacks.

Though the "Heartbeat Bill" amendment was vetoed, abortion rights activists fear that the harsher 20-week ban will be more difficult to defend in court--and the state's attempt to defend a reactionary law will have the added insult on top of injury of stealing funds away from programs needed by workers and the poor.

While Ohio state legislators were claiming to care about "protecting life" by making it harder to have an abortion, many of the same lawmakers helped to expand the state's concealed carry law to make it legal to carry a concealed weapon at daycare centers and on college campuses.

Daycare facilities must now advertise that they don't allow concealed firearms--otherwise, it is acceptable for anyone with a concealed carry permit to walk into a building with young children with a loaded weapon. College boards of trustees can also vote to forbid concealed carry on their campuses.

In a state notorious for the killing of Black men and children, including Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and Tyre King, for the "crime" of holding toy guns, it's unconscionable that the state legislature is expanding the ability to conceal loaded weapons around children and young adults.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers passed a law blocking attempts by individual cities to increase the minimum wage above the state minimum, set at $8.15 an hour. This bill is a direct response to the campaign to raise the minimum wage in various cities. Cleveland was set to vote in May on a proposal to increase the citywide minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next two years.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows John Kasich's record as the architect of federal welfare "reform" in the 1990s that he would sign a bill enshrining the poverty-level wage of $8.15 an hour throughout Ohio.

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AS IF all that weren't enough, the legislature has also moved to crack down on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in solidarity with Palestine.

On December 19, Kasich signed House Bill 476 (HB 476), which bans state contracts from being given to any business or organization that has divested from or boycotted Israel.

This bill was originally introduced in the summer, but stalled under pressure from community organizations, such as Freedom to Boycott Ohio. But under the cover of the lame-duck session and the holiday season, the right wing-dominated legislature passed the bill quickly, before significant opposition could be organized.

This blatantly anti-democratic law, which mirrors similar measures in other states, such as New York, is a direct response to the growth of the BDS movement in Ohio over the last several years.

The BDS campaign has grown particularly fast on university campuses, including the University of Toledo, where the student government passed a resolution supporting divestment from Israel, and at Ohio State University, among others.

As the organization Palestine Legal explained in testimony submitted to the legislature:

By denying public contracts to businesses because they boycott Israel, HB 476 seeks to penalize and inhibit protected speech...In addition, this bill would also discourage grassroots human rights advocacy aimed at pressuring companies to boycott Israel. While the bill does not directly prohibit such advocacy, it would effectively chill advocates' voices by undermining their goal of influencing companies to take ethical political stances, and by stigmatizing their speech.

While victories for the Palestine solidarity movement in Ohio have remained symbolic--no state university or other public institution has actually boycotted or divested from Israel yet--the efforts to repress the movement illustrate the threat it poses to elite interests and their desperation to stop it.

Just as the solidarity movement against apartheid in South Africa galvanized anti-racist movement throughout the United States in earlier decades, the movement in solidarity with Palestine also has brought a new generation of activists into struggle. The passage of HB 476 will create new obstacles for this movement in Ohio, but history shows that legal repression cannot permanently defeat the struggle for justice.

The legislature has chosen to take advantage of Trump's victory prioritizing dangerous, oppressive and anti-labor bills. This proves once again that our collective liberation can't depend on politicians tied to the capitalist system, who practice a mockery of democracy, regardless of which side of the partisan aisle they sit on.

Ohio lawmakers have made it abundantly clear that in the era of Trump, anything goes. We need to redouble our commitment to defend of our rights, from reproductive freedom to the living wage struggle to basic democracy and civil liberties--and to strength all those individual battles by uniting together.

Tim Adams contributed to this article.