COLUMBUS -- A state Senate committee heard hours of testimony Tuesday supporting the declaration of racism as a public health crisis.
Cosponsors Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland; and Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, said declaring the public health crisis is a necessary first step in turning back the laws and policies that have pushed down people of color for centuries in the nation and the state.
Both cosponsors listed a history of laws meant to give advantages to white citizens, and emphasized the comprehensive impact racism has on life as a person of color, from health to income levels and insurance.
“Our resolution wants to reverberate the disparities that are inextricably linked in health care, Ohio’s prisons, the digital divide within education and healthcare services, economic opportunities, our education system, more likely to be uninsured, and access to affordable and adequate housing,” Craig said.
Hundreds of people, from elected officials and nonprofit representatives, to medical students and public school employees, submitted testimony in support of the resolution, which would require elected officials, staff, “funders and grantees” to receive implicit bias training, secure resources, and promote community engagement on issues of racism. The resolution also includes a commitment to reviewing codified ordinances with a “racial equity lens” and government hires in the same way.
Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, said looking at racism in the many spectrums of life will help set the framework for reform.
“These inequities in health, avoidable health inequalities, arise because of the circumstances in which people grow, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness,” Dawson said.
Williams announced that two more Republicans had signed on to the resolution, Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering; and Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, was already listed as a cosponsor.
Lehner said racism “gnaws at this country,” and acknowledged that people of color have been unfairly profiled and accosted in the long history of the country.
“If day in and day out you have to deal with that, that causes a public health crisis,” Lehner said.
Committee member Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, said he was saddened by the conditions that led to this resolution, and asked what sponsors and supporters expected to get from this bill after hundreds of years of oppression.
“This is the first step…the hard work comes when we have a look at this and pull back the layers,” Craig said.
Senate President Larry Obhof visited the committee hearing for a few minutes, listening to sponsor testimony before leaving.
Committee Chair Dave Burke said Tuesday’s hearing would not be the only possibility for proponent testimony on the resolution, and he said he hoped to spend the summer visiting communities to talk about racism.
“This sets the stage that leads to a remedy or a solution,” Burke said.
As the hearing continued into Tuesday evening, Senate leadership announced a “listening tour” by a special committee during June and July.
Obhof noted the more than 200 witnesses at the committee meeting in a statement on the tour.
“Ohioans want to engage in meaningful conversations. The Ohio Senate is committed to listening intently, to better understanding one another, and to working together.”
Locations and dates of the meetings have not been announced.