It was a bittersweet week for Agudath Israel in Ohio. While we celebrated several significant legislative accomplishments, we also mourned the passing of a long-time friend of Agudath Israel, Ms. Joyce Garver Keller. As the director of Ohio Jewish Communities for more than 25 years, Joyce was a fixture in Ohio politics and a tireless advocate for the Jewish community.
On Wednesday, Agudath Israel welcomed the positive outcome of three separate votes in the Ohio General Assembly. First, the Ohio House of Representatives unanimously concurred on Senate amendments to House Bill 299 (Blessing, Rezebek). The bill permits a guardian of a child with autism to apply for Ohio’s Autism Scholarship Program. For nonpublic schools, an amendment to the bill made important changes to certain alternative testing options for chartered nonpublic school students in high school. In last year’s state budget bill, the Ohio General Assembly created an option for these schools to give alternative assessments in order for the students to qualify for graduation. This alternative, unintentionally excluded three schools out of the seven hundred chartered nonpublic schools in Ohio, including Columbus Torah Academy. The latest change allows all chartered nonpublic schools including Columbus Torah Academy to use these alternative assessments. Agudath Israel, along with representatives from these schools strongly advocated for this bill to ensure that all chartered nonpublic schools have the autonomy they have earned and deserve.
Later on Wednesday, the Ohio Senate passed the Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) legislation, Senate Bill 165 (Lehner). The legislation establishes procedures for the use of medical orders for life-sustaining treatment and makes changes to the laws governing Do Not Resuscitate identification and orders. This marks the first time, since it was first introduced in 2008, that this bill has passed a chamber of the Ohio General Assembly. As a member of the Honoring Wishes Task Force, the committee that helped draft the bill, Agudath Israel had significant concerns with multiple aspects of this legislation. Following several years of active work on this issue, the lead advocates and bill sponsors made significant amendments that addressed Agudath Israel’s concerns with portions of the bill. Agudath Israel is confident that should the bill pass the House of Representatives, patients that are dedicated to following Jewish religious dicta on these issues will continue to be protected. In light of this legislation, it is even more imperative that all orthodox Jews execute a Halachic Living Will.
Lastly, the Ohio House Education Committee amended and passed House Bill 481 (Thompson, Koehler), to ensure that students assigned to attend “EdChoice-designated schools” are not negatively impacted by “safe harbor” laws that give school districts a pass on student performance for a three-year period. The amendment, offered by Vice Chair Rep. Tim Derickson, was an important issue for Agudath Israel to ensure that Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program continues to offer opportunities to Ohio students. Kudos to Chairman Brenner for continuing to be a strong advocate on this issue. Agudath Israel’s Ohio director, Rabbi Yitz Frank, was quoted by the Gongwer News Service on this issue several months ago.
On April 26th, the Ohio House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability heard testimony on Ohio’s anti-BDS bill, House Bill 476 (Schuring). Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities took the lead on arranging support and testifying on this important issue. Agudath Israel’s Ohio director, was privileged to participate in the Ohio House of Representatives mission to Israel this past summer with the Negev Foundation. Many of the sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill saw firsthand how devastating and bigoted the BDS movement is. Kudos to the Ohio Legislature for taking a principled stand to defend Israel and denounce the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.