With issues on their minds ranging from heroin to paid maternity leave, students at Amherst Steele High School reached out to state Sen. Gayle Manning.
On Dec. 13, she answered.
Teacher Al McConihe assigned his Amherst Steele High civics class to write the legislator, and she replied in person with a more-than hour-long discussion in the school’s creative learning center.
“I was thrilled with every single letter I received,” said Manning (R-North Ridgeville). “One of the things I’ve always said to my staff is the most important thing to me is people in our district, people in Lorain County, and Huron County. I finally settled on this bright green folder to put all emails, phone messages, and hand-written messages I receive from the district.”
Manning outlined some of her accomplishments since being elected to Senate District 13 in 2011, such as passing Senate Bill 141, which allows pharmacists to administer life-saving drugs without a prescription; and SB 7 in 2015, prohibiting the sale of pure caffeine powder in Ohio after the death of Logan Stiner, 18, of LaGrange, from a caffeine powder overdose in 2014.
“You can buy caffeine powder online, so that makes it a national issue,” said Manning. “As we all know, it’s much harder to get things done at the national level as opposed to the state level. I talked to the attorney general’s office, and asked if we passed something in Ohio, if it would make a difference. He said yes, and passing it would send a message to companies like Amazon that it’s not OK to sell caffeine powder.”
Jaida Perez, a junior at Steele, wrote Manning about the powder.
“I wanted to write in because I care about the health of others,” she said. “I really liked the bill and how it showed that she cares about students. It’s important to be involved in this process because as teenagers you heart about all of these new things to try like the kid from LaGrange working out with caffeine powder. I think it’s important to learn as much as possible at all times.”
Manning also serves as majority whip in the state senate but told students she does not let partisan politics decide how she votes or galvanize support for issues among fellow legislators.
When asked about the now-vetoed Ohio Heartbeat Bill, which would have prohibited abortions after six weeks and passed the senate in a 15-13 vote, Manning said she voted against it.
“This would eventually have been deemed unconstitutional,” she said. “Many states have passed this and it has been struck down in court challenges. Sometimes it takes a couple of years to do that. A lot of taxpayer money goes into those challenges. People say government shouldn’t be involved in people’s private lives and decisions and I certainly understand that. But in the same token, I think in some situations they have to be involved. It was a very difficult decision after hearing testimony on both sides.”
She also supported House Bill 523, which legalized certain forms of medical marijuana use in Ohio, but understands temporary local bans being passed in Lorain County, many of which cite “incomplete language” in the state’s bill.
“As you can imagine, it was very difficult to pass,” she said. “It was another very close vote. People felt very strongly about not allowing it because you worry about it being a gateway. We passed it but we still don’t have all the answers we need. An executive director has been hired to figure out more of the specifics and to make sure we get it right. Many cities have called us to ask what’s going on.”
McConihe was happy with the results of his students’ work.
“What’s impressive to me is she was up there reading the carbon copies of our emails,” he said. “We’ve been doing this assignment over the course of the past few years and some of the emails she addressed went back beyond this year. The particular email she mentioned me in was about the Palace Theater in Lorain, and that was from last spring. That leaves a great impression that she really cares about her constituents.”
Also on hand was Amherst mayor Mark Costilow, who said political passion among students is a good thing no matter what side of the debate they fall on.
“I’m impressed with this gathering here to listen to one of our state legislators,” he said. “When I was in school I don’t think this would’ve happened. As controversial as this election was, I think it brought a lot of us into the picture to see what the process is all about.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier | Amherst News-Times State Sen. Gayle Manning holds a T-shirt given to her by Amherst Steele students after speaking to them on Dec. 13 about various national and state legislative issues.