After Decades of Work, Ohio House Removes Spousal Exemption for Rape Charges

Only Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) voted against it

click to enlarge Ohio House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill. - Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal.
Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal.
Ohio House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill.

The Ohio House gathered Wednesday to vote on a handful of bills including a long-awaited measure to eliminate the spousal exception for rape. House lawmakers also took up measures allowing virtual public hearings, elevating offenses against referees and adding organ donation to hunting or fishing licenses.

But all in all, it was a relatively slow day at the Ohio House. With an ALEC conference and a retreat for the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, several lawmakers were absent. We may never know where they stand on changes to the “Ohio Carpenters” license plate, which the House approved 68-6, with 24 members not voting.

Spousal exception

On the floor, Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, called it a “historic day,” and noted lawmakers have been working to eliminate the spousal exception for rape since 1985. She explained existing law protects a married person from rape charges so long as there is no threat of force or violence.

In practice, that means the same set of facts could lead to a different outcome depending on the couple’s relationship status.

“A person can drug their partner rendering them unconscious and unable to consent, rape them and be shielded from prosecution under current law,” she said. “One is married. One is not. These two cases are treated differently, not because of the evidence collected or the reliability of the witness. It is the marital status of the couples that bars one from seeking justice in a court of law.”

Co-sponsor Brett Hudson Hillyer, R-Ulrichsville, added, “One does not give up their protections under equal justice of the law simply by saying I do at the altar.”

Despite decades of work, and bipartisan support, the idea has languished for years. Lawmakers have put the proposal forward in various forms in the past several general assemblies. Most recently, former Reps. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City and Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, tried to pass the measure in 2022. Just like the latest effort, no one came forward in opposition, but the measure still couldn’t make it out of committee.

Miranda and Hillyer’s bill passed 74-1, with only Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, voting against it.

Other business

Among a handful of bills designating memorial highways the House also gave the go ahead for certain public bodies to meet virtually and to ask people about organ donation when they get a fishing or hunting license.

Introducing the public meetings measure, Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, said he was skeptical of virtual meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic. But after circumstances forced people to meet remotely, he asked around and what he heard changed his mind.

“By utilizing virtual meetings, public participation was much higher, and so was the attendance of the members who made up those boards,” he said.

The proposal includes several exceptions, however, denying virtual meetings for the General Assembly, its committees, courts, and several government bodies like county commissioners or boards of education.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kevin Miller, R-Newark, stressed that “just one organ donor has the ability to save eight lives.”

His measure would institute a procedure similar to the one already in place at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, asking if an applicant wants to be an organ donor when they get a fishing or hunting license.

Miller noted 2,700 people in Ohio are currently waiting on a transplant. At the same time, Ohio fields more than 300,000 hunting license applications and 850,000 fishing license applications each year.

“By enacting this simple piece of legislation,” he argued, “We have the opportunity to reach over a million individuals in an effort to expand the donor base, and improve the lives of our fellow Ohioans.”

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.
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