In this episode of Civilly Speaking, host Sean Harris talks with Brad Ingraham, OAJ’s Director of Government Affairs. Brad provides a brief background on his work at the Statehouse before coming to OAJ then dives into current legislation.

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Sean: Hello, I’m Sean Harris, and this is episode 58 of Civilly Speaking, brought to you by the
Ohio Association for Justice. Today’s May 21st and I’m here with our guest and our very own Director of Government Affairs, Brad Ingraham. Brad, thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.

Brad: Thanks for having me.

Sean: As maybe a first point, all our members may not know you yet let’s get a little background on you and how you got to OAJ.

Brad: Thanks, Sean. I’m glad to be here. I started with OAJ back in December. John VanDoorn and I had a month overlap, which was awesome I got to learn from someone who I have respected and known for years and John was a great advocate for the OAJ for ten years and so it’s an honor to come and follow in his footsteps. But before I was here, I spent about five and a half years at the Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Education, where I was the legislative liaison or lobbyist for the department. And a lot of people ask, well, why does a, why does a state agency have a lobbyist? And that’s kind of speaks to exactly what I think lobbyists do and what I think I hope I do for the OAJ is to translate what the agency does into legislator and then translate what legislators do into the association or the department and so I spent a long time doing that, working in the education space. All my family are teachers and so it was a very comfortable space for me, but when this job opened up, I thought that would be a really fun and interesting and challenging position. So, I had a great time meeting everybody as we went through the interview process and it’s been a fun start.

Sean: And before you were with the Department of Education, you were actually at the statehouse?

Brad: Yeah. So I spent a couple years lobbying as a young independent lobbyist for a small firm. But I spent about five years working for a state representative and state senator. We worked on the Finance Committee. We worked through a public utilities committee. One of my first bills I ever worked on was the payday lending reform bill of ten years ago when there was a whole statewide issue on that. So I’ve done a lot of different work, but most of my time has spent working for Republicans in the General Assembly.

Sean: So how does working for the Department of Education prepare you to work for the trial lawyers?

Brad: It was, frankly, a fantastic training because at the department we were dealing with high profile issues that many, many people cared about that were constantly on the front page of newspapers. And so I spent time learning and understanding how legislators view these important pieces of legislation. It’s also communication. How do we communicate these very technical issues in very normal person speak? In education land, it’s all about tests and assessments and formative and evaluations. And here it’s we have to, we have a whole new language that I’m learning with trials and civil justice versus civil rights. So many people in my world confuse those two and so we have to talk about what that means and just figuring out those precise ways of talking about our policy in a way that non-lawyers can understand, because the vast majority of legislators are neither educators nor attorneys and so understanding how to have those connections and make those, build those relationships and have those conversations has been really important.

Sean: All the more important these days, I think the number of or at least the percentage of legislators that are also lawyers is down.

Brad: Absolutely. It used to be very, very common. Lawyers have an obvious interest in the law, their professions and firms generally like them to be engaged, but since it has reduced. We’re losing a couple of attorneys in the Senate after this year, but we’ve got a couple more that I think are really great for the association and really understand our issues, not all always with us, but willing to communicate with us. Same thing in the House, but a couple of young attorney legislators over there that are just fantastic people and understand our space. So I think that we have a really great base of legislators for the OAJ to build relationships with and communicate with.

Sean: Speaking of legislators and legislation, we’re sitting here today on May 21st. Obviously the hot topic is immunity. It’s a fast paced, fast changing bill and so whenever this podcast comes out, this may be out of date, but where does the immunity for COVID-19 related activities stand currently?

Brad: So what a time to start with an organization. Four months after beginning with the OAJ we get the pandemic and get one of the bigger, effectively tort reform efforts that we’ve seen in the state in a little bit, couched as immunity. These bills have started in a place where they were very broad sweeping and extended periods of time, for extended periods of time and so we are, I think it’s fair to say that we are pleased with the progress of the bills, but that does not necessarily mean that we are pleased with the bills. They are moving in the right direction, but we acknowledge from the very beginning that we do not appreciate or agree with immunity and so we have to balance that. We have to keep our relationships by understanding where legislators are coming from with the bill while actively, thoughtfully and rationally talking through the impacts of the bill and why we have different opinion than the sponsors. And so we’ve made some progress. We just had the second sub bills released. A sub bill is a kind of a new working document and so both the House and the Senate bills are better than they were when they were introduced. And it is a, this process has made all the more unique that they’re very, very similar bills in both chambers and so in order for one to pass, you can only have one to pass, and so it’ll be interesting how relationships and how the people in power, all the Republicans, frankly, decide which bill, if any, actually gets to the governor’s desk.

Sean: And the General Assembly is undoubtedly red, perhaps scarlet red, talk about OAJ’s relationships with Republican friends in the legislature.

Brad: Absolutely. The House has sixty, sixty-one Republican members. So nearly a supermajority. The Senate has twenty-four of thirty-three Republican members so more than a supermajority and so you cannot be successful in the legislature by being part of one party or another, especially right now being so entrenchly Democrat. But I don’t think the OAJ’s message is Republican nor Democrat, I think that the OAJ’s message and one of the reasons why I was so excited about this position was that it is very firmly pro Seventh Amendment. We want juries who are constitutionally identified to decide cases, and we want people to have access to those juries and that’s not really controversial.

Sean: That’s a nonpartisan issue.

Brad: Right?

Sean: Yeah.

Brad: And so we are we’re building relationships with members of both sides of the aisle. I’ve had great phone conversations just in the last twenty-four hours with Republicans and Democrats and we are doing this in a way that we have friends on both sides of the aisle.

Sean: What other bills are percolating now through the legislature that our members would be interested in?

Brad: So, HB 81 actually just passed on the Senate floor yesterday. So, it’s a House bill so just got through a major hurdle. HB 81 is what I affectionately call the BWC reforms that everybody likes. So, it’s very rare for the OAJ, the Ohio Chamber and the unions to all agree on a bill and HB 81 makes some important and very good changes to BWC laws and so I expect that to get to the governor in the next few weeks. So really great to see that. HB 421 just passed the House floor last week. This is a bill that was originally trying to figure out how hospitals and municipal police departments or local police departments understand or apportion their liability in certain cases. But we were able to work with the Republican and Democrat co-sponsors of the bill to really focus that bill’s intent. But also, we were able to work with them to get an amendment included in the bill to better define sovereign immunity when it comes to emergency calls and so what started as a bill that looked like an immunity bill is now an opportunity to clarify when immunity happens. And so we’re really…

Sean: When it happens and when it doesn’t.

Brad: Yes and so I think that we are, we’ve made great progress with that. And that was an amendment that was actually sponsored by Republican Representative Hillyer and Republican Representative Jim Butler, who us the House Speaker Pro Tempore, but it’s effectively based on a Democrat Bill HB 21 by Representative Ingram, not related. So it is a, another one of these unique opportunities where Republicans and Democrats are on the same page about limiting government and limiting immunity and so we’re saying, that will get to the Senate here in the next few weeks and hopefully have a chance to pass here in the fall.

Sean: And perhaps not coincidentally, Hillier and Butler are both lawyers.

Brad: Yes, exactly. So we’ve had a lot of good opportunities and a lot of good successes this year, hoping to continue that. Got to get through this immunity hurdle, but there are bills that we’re working on every day. So if members have questions about legislation or are particularly interested in one bill or another, I hope they feel comfortable emailing or calling me anytime.

Sean: You know, just to give folks a flavor of some of the silliness that you deal with you down at the state house, can you talk to us about HB 496?

Brad: HB 496 is beekeeper immunity and this is a bill that’s on its, I think, second or third General Assembly because bills have to be reintroduced every general assembly and it passed the House last General Assembly. It was reintroduced this time, was set to pass last week, but then our Legislative Chair, Curtis Fifner, actually got up and testified and was able to, I think, spark some questions in some members about why this bill is necessary, because apparently the last time anybody had a successful lawsuit about bee sting liability was in 1925 when a farmer’s horse was killed and that person sought damages from the beekeeper owner in 1925.

Sean: Yeah, I was concerned that if this bill went through, that would really, really knock out that area of practice for many of our members.

Brad: So, you know, it is one of those things that I understand the beekeepers the apiarist, apiarists.

Sean: Okay.

Brad: Beekeepers.

Sean: Sure.

Brad: Who are doing the state a great service by bringing the beekeeping population or bee population back but what we have seen and what I’m sure our members haven’t experienced are a bunch of lawsuits about bee stings so we’re trying to remind members, or legislators, that that just isn’t necessary and it should not be a fear of beekeepers.

Sean: I have folks ask me all the time, and I’m sure you do too, when it comes to legislation, how can our members get involved? How can they help the process?

Brad: It’s a great question and one reason I love this association so much is how active and engaged members are. They’re thoughtful about legislation. They read the news. They read legislation and they comment on it and so the best thing I can request of members is if you hear about a bill, read it and let me know. Tell me what you think. Let’s have a conversation about it to see if there is anywhere that bill can go. If you’re particularly passionate about the issue and would like to testify on the bill, I’m happy to support that opportunity and connect you with either your legislator to talk about it or the chairman to schedule testimony. If you have a particular area and you have a lot of research on it, research is exceptionally helpful. There’s only one of me and one of Curtis. We have a great legislative committee, but we need members to share their research and background on it, on every or any given issue. If you know what other states are doing, that can be very powerful. If you know what other states laws are better than ours that you want to bring into Ohio, let me know. If there are small tweaks to law that are impacting your practice those are also really helpful. So just keep the conversation going. I really like talking to members. I really like building relationships with the trial attorneys in our community and so just give me a call, send me an email or write an article, whatever you want to do, just get it to me and I’ll read it and we can have a good conversation.

Sean: Well, and speaking of relationships, there’s hardly anything less important than members getting to know and having relationships with legislators.

Brad: Absolutely.

Sean: How important is that?

Brad: Oh, it’s critical. If you have that personal connection to your legislator, whether you served on a board with them, if you were their attorney, those kinds of things are really helpful because you’re a constituent of theirs and legislators know me as the guy from the OAJ and they can take that with a grain of salt, but when a constituent comes up and says, I have a problem, usually the legislator listens. And so build those relationships with your legislators. If you don’t know who they are, let me know. I’m happy to connect you with them. If you are particularly passionate about politics, get involved with your local or county Republican or Democrat Party, and inevitably you’ll meet your county commissioners and your state legislators who are engaged in these laws and rules and so you can build things that way. Go to fundraisers if you’re that committed. Republican or Democrat and I am happy to support and help you build those relationships and inevitably those relationships will help the association.

Sean: At some point on some issue, right? That’s always, they may not be with us on one hundred percent of the issues, but having that relationship so that we can least have the conversation is what’s so important.

Brad: Absolutely. I think most legislators understand that they’re never going to be with their constituent’s 100 percent because you’re never with anybody. I’m not my wife and I aren’t on the same page on every issue all the time and so it’s okay for you to have differences of opinions as long as you don’t hold them personally responsible for all of those opinions and so having the conversation and leaving it there, conversation does impact people. I mean, that’s why it’s called Civilly Speaking, right? So we can have these important civil conversations. I mean, for so many levels, this podcast works. So, yeah. Especially who would’ve thought that you’d need to have a conversation about beekeepers with that legislator or workers’ compensation issues or any number of things that we work through in the legislature. Just this week, a member reached out to me and said, you know, on these immunity bills I’ve heard from some potential clients about this and this and this, who can I talk to about that? Oh, do you have a relationship with your legislator? Yes. Oh, then let’s figure out how to support that conversation to see where that goes so that legislator knows exactly why we’re fighting for this. And so the more I hear about those relationships or just if members have them on their own accord. Awesome.

Sean: Brad, this was awesome. Thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.

Brad: Thank you for having me, Sean.

Sean: And thanks to all listeners out there. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out civillyspeaking.com and please leave us review on iTunes and we’ll see you on the next episode of Civilly Speaking.