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Outgoing Ohio Senate president looks at issues ahead for his successor
Heartbeat bill, drilling taxes are likely to be back for 201

Karen Kasler
Now former Senate President Tom Niehaus (far right) expects an antiabortion bill and drilling taxes will occupy his successor.
Courtesy of Karen Kasler
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Last year was supposed to have been a slow one 2012 at the Statehouse, with half of the seats in the Ohio Senate on the ballot, and with the two-year budget firmly in place. Instead, in the waning days, controversial legislation drew crowds and controversy.

Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler sat down with the departing Senate president and the minority leader to talk about the year that was – and what’s ahead.

KASLER: Interview with outgoing Senate president, minority leader

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There were 108 bills that started in the Senate that passed over the last two years more than half in 2012. And outgoing Senate President Tom Niehaus of southwest Ohio says the overwhelming majority had support from both Republicans and Democrats. 


“Close to 90percent -- some 88 percent or 89 percent of the bills passed just out of the Senate were bipartisan. … Close to 80 percent of the bills passed out of the General Assembly were bipartisan.”

Ohio’s senators dealt with puppy mills, texting while driving and human trafficking. And both Niehaus and Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati say that their biggest accomplishment was legislation they co-sponsored to reform Ohio’s five public pension funds.

But some issues divided lawmakers, often along party lines. They included education, guns and a ban on abortion at the first sign of a fetal heartbeat.

The so-called Heartbeat Bill almost got to a vote after the election, but Niehaus says he decided to block it even though he thought it would pass. That’s because he saw the next step: A challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. 
“And it’s reasonable to expect that President Obama is going to have several appointments to that court over the next three or four years – that the court may not be as receptive to discussions about changing the Roe v Wade rule and it could be detrimental to the right-to-life movement.”

Niehaus says he can’t remember ever intentionally passing a bill that was unconstitutional, as he felt the heartbeat bill was. But his successor may see things differently.

Republicans gained a seat in November, and incoming Senate President Keith Faber of Celina is considered very conservative. So Democrat Kearney expects the bill will be back.

“It is unconstitutional in my view. I think in our caucus, we can fight it by going to the public, appealing to our senators’ sense of and our understanding of our purpose here in passing legislation that’s constitutional and achieves certain reasonable goals.”

But Kearney says it’s been hard for Democrats to get their concerns heard in a chamber where Republicans dominate 2-1. 
“Yes, of course – we’re in the minority. That’s what happens. And the best way to fix that is to get more seats.

He acknowledged that’s a big job, given the 10-year legislative maps drawn by the Republican-dominated apportionment board. But “we are big boys and big girls, we’re smart people, and we need to figure out a way to get around that.”

Niehaus says he tried to encourage bi-partisan sponsorship of bills during his tenure as Senate president.

One measure that never even got introduced was Gov. John Kasich’s call for a hike in taxes on oil and natural gas drillers. Most Republicans opposed a higher tax. Many Democrats supported that tax. But they wanted to restore cuts in state funding for local schools and governments, not use the drilling money to fund the cut in income taxes that Kasich wants.

Niehaus predicts a resolution this year. “The severance tax is like every other tax. People think it’s a great idea as long as they don’t have to pay it. And since most people don’t see themselves paying the severance tax, they think it’s just great.”

Niehaus will be watching the next General Assembly from the sidelines – he was term- limited in the Senate, and is now looking for a new job.

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