The fourth meeting of the Center for Community Solutions’ Human Service Advocacy Network (HSAN) met last Friday at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. The guest for the meeting was The Honorable State Senator Vernon Sykes (D-28).
Sykes opened his comments with a story about how he grew up in an area of the South where the textbooks that he was given had one word inside the book cover: “Negro.” This indicated that they were books that were handed down from white schools that had received new books. From that, he said, he formed his understanding of the impact of public policy on every day experiences.
In his 40 minutes of remarks, Sykes, father of a previous HSAN guest, State Representative Emilia Sykes, touched on a number of issues. He spoke about a bill he is working on that would introduce health education standards in the State of Ohio. Currently, he said, Ohio is the only state that does not have health education standards for schools. He also explained how current state law complicates his ability to include sexual education as a component of his health standards bill. Even so, he lamented that other legislators seem to still not be open to his legislation.
Sykes also spoke about the issue of gerrymandering, which he argued has the biggest impact on determining the outcome of elections.
Sykes also spoke about the issue of gerrymandering, which he argued has the biggest impact on determining the outcome of elections. He said that the process negatively impacts democracy because “instead of the constituents choosing the legislator, the legislators choose the constituents.” He added that the practice of gerrymandering increases polarity of views in primaries, lessens the importance of general elections and inhibits the ability to govern. In 2018, he played a key role, working with fellow State Senator Matt Huffman, and advocacy organizations such as the League of Women Voters, to create legislation that he said he believes will greatly reduce the impact of gerrymandering on congressional races. That legislation was passed by the General Assembly and will be on the ballot in May. Sykes also spoke about the criminal justice system, and his efforts to ensure that the state does a better job of making restitution to who are determined to have been wrongly convicted of a crime. Sykes briefly touched on payday lending, a topic which has been at the forefront of policymakers due to criminal accusations. Sykes said that he is pleased to see the General Assembly finally moving forward on payday lending reform legislation.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, after being asked a question from an AARP representative, Sykes alluded to the importance of seniors and specifically AARP. Sykes’ wife, former state representative Barbara Sykes, serves as the Director of AARP Ohio. Additionally, Sykes answered questions about how his efforts to impact health education standards could be coupled with other legislative priorities currently taking place at the federal level. Finally, Sykes spoke about the need for constant involvement from nonprofit organizations and the continued need for information. He stressed that it’s also important to be cognizant of the impact of that information on elections and campaigns. That, he said, bolsters the case whenever nonprofits make legislative pitches to legislators.