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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Day In the Ohio House

Imagine me, a retired English teacher who now writes a local blog, being asked to represent thousands, even millions of people in his state. Just this week our representative, Terry Johnson, called upon a group of us to attend a vote in the Ohio House of Representatives. Barbara Ratliff Howard, Courtney Brooke Rose, and I headed to Columbus to add our support for passage of House Bill 93.

We had feverishly supported the legislation as had many, many others in Scioto County. Now, with less than a day's notice we were the few able to attend the important session. We felt a responsibility to witness this event. Although we are not government officials, we knew we were carrying the banner for everyone who could not attend due to work and other commitments. How I wished each warrior could attend the proceedings.

I pointed my car straight north, and we headed on our way. Needless to say, we chatted continually to ease our nervous fears. The hour and one half ride passed quickly, and we phoned our contact Scott Evans to help us find the premium of the day - a parking space. After some wrangling in the parking garage, we walked the tunnel to the Capitol Building. With little time to spare, Mr. Evans briefed us about the proceedings, and we opened a door revealing the staircase leading to our balcony seats in the House chambers.

As I took my seat in the chambers, I felt very humble.The House Chamber sparkled in the light of ornate chandeliers on this rainy, dismal Wednesday afternoon. At 1:30 P.M., Speaker Batchelder rapped his gavel, and the assembly quickly came to order. Through several introductions of guests, I couldn't help but absorb the grandiose room, a place where in 1861, President Lincoln had spoken to a joint session of the Ohio Legislature while on his way to Washington to take the oath of office.

My heart beat in nervous anticipation but my spirit held me in reverence of the surroundings. I thought to myself how each of the ninety-nine representatives must feel occupying his or her own personal space in such a meaningful and powerful position. What pressure each must face yet what honor each must feel to be the voice of their respective communities.

The weight of the responsibility was palpable here: the seriousness of the business of state pervaded the air. Yet, at the same time, as I scanned the legislative seats, I couldn't help but realized that they were all occupied by simple men and women whose utmost duty entailed preserving the common good of the people of the State of Ohio. Republicans and Democrats they were but surely all must be sensitive to coming together in their different roles.

My friends and I were introduced and acknowledged as special guests of Representatives Johnson, Bupb, and Burke. To be honest, I have never dreamed that I would be in the chambers, much less receive any attention in the House. Just a few minutes before I had been an eavesdropper of sorts, but after standing before the eyes of the representatives, I felt a part of the process of government I had read about years ago in my required class of Ohio History. I became assured that one person does have a voice in matters of the highest interest.

The legislation we had worked so hard to see enacted had reached its initial vote in the Ohio House. House Bill 93 will provide additional oversight by enhancing the current Ohio Automated Rx Review System (OARRS), which was established in 2006 to assist health care professionals in identifying drug-seeking behaviors. The legislation will also limit prescribers’ ability to personally furnish certain controlled substances, enact Medicaid reforms to improve consumer education and allow for better care coordination, improve licensing and law enforcement for pain-management clinics, and develop a statewide prescription drug “take-back” program.

Representatives Johnson, Bupb, Burke and others spoke passionately while emphasizing the urgency of quick passage of House Bill 93, a bill that will help reduce the epidemic of prescription drug abuse that claims the lives of four Ohioans a day. Armed with undeniable statistics and facts supporting the need for the legislation, representatives urged bipartisan support. Each carefully echoed the theme that certain matters of state supersede politics and that Rx drug abuse is certainly one of those concerns.

One of my colleagues nudged me and whispered, "Look, there is the governor." In disbelief, I glanced below to find that, indeed, Governor Kasich had quietly entered the room and was sitting in chambers. Soon, Representative Bupb acknowledged his presence and thanked him for his interest. As far as any representative knew, this was the first time a sitting governor had ever attended a House bill voting session.  I was privileged to see history in the making.

I was overwhelmed. Later that day, Governor Kasich commented, "It was their day, and I wanted to see it," referring to members from our group -- the Scioto County Rx Action Team, SOLACE -- and Adams County Sheriff Kim Rogers along with Adams County Doctor Larry Best. This man, my governor, who had made it a priority not only to witness the vote but also to visit our community and pledge support for our cause, had made a lasting impression.

The vote on House Bill 93 was unanimous: 97 to O in favor of the legislation. Now, the bill is headed to the Senate with the strongest Ohio legislative support possible. Words cannot describe the feelings that washed over me as we all expressed our gratitude to Representatives Johnson and Bupb before climbing into the car and heading back home.

Barbara, Courtney, and I drove home in a rain that failed to dampen our spirits. All along the route, faces kept popping into my mind: faces of those lost, faces of those so instrumental to the cause, faces of those struggling with dependence, faces of young adults contemplating experimentation, faces of children suffering in homes infested with addiction. They all were singing one beautiful song; the hills of Southern Ohio were ringing with praises of "Hallelujah!" God be praised for our leaders, our state, and most of all, for our common citizens.

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