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Government and Politics

Conference committee vote gets surprising pushback
Usually routine process mired in debate this year

Karen Kasler
Youngstown Rep. Bob Hagan addresses a crowd of protesters at the Statehouse.
Courtesy of Karen Kasler
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In The Region:
What is usually a routine vote to send the two versions of the state budget to a committee to meld it into one document turned out to be a lot more political than usual in the Ohio House today. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.
Conference committee vote gets surprising pushback

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It happens every budget cycle – the vote in the House, where the budget starts, to reject the changes that the Senate made. House Finance Committee chair Ron Amstutz of Wooster introduced the vote.

“The question is: shall we concur in the amendments that the Senate has made to the budget bill? And I think we should do the honorable thing and indicate that further work is required.” 

In the last two budget years, this vote has been nearly unanimous, with little debate.

Breaking with tradition
This time, Democratic Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown started off the discussion. 

“I want to address, briefly, the opportunity that we have and could miss, and that the suggestion that I’m making now is that we invest in Ohio’s developing shale drilling industry and I’ll tell you why.”

Hagan then began to talk about the drilling process known as fracking, which he opposes. Rep. Amstutz then stood up and said that Hagan wasn’t speaking to the budget bill, and Speaker Bill Batchelder ruled Hagan out of order.

Then Rep. Ron Young, a Republican of Lake County in northeast Ohio brought up a Medicaid reform amendment that Senators had taken out of the House budget. 

“And as long as I’m mentioning Medicaid, I’m hopeful that we don’t slip in some sort of Medicaid expansion or even some of the reform programs that I’ve seen to date, and let me just share briefly why I feel that way.”

Young talked for several minutes longer than Hagan, and eventually Democratic Rep. Mike Foley of Cleveland rose to say that Young also wasn’t speaking to the bill. Batchelder quickly moved to a vote, and the budget is off to the conference committee. After the vote, Amstutz, who’s on that committee, was asked about the short debate. 

Amstutz: “Those are statewide speeches.” 

Kasler: “Well, do you feel they set a tone that maybe is going to be making the conference committee’s work harder?” 

Amstutz: “We always have our challenges, but I think we’re reaching out to the members that are focused on the members that are trying to make our state, to develop strong programs, policy programs, policy-based programs and ultimately, hopefully we’ll find convergence even of those that have statewide aspirations.”

No politics necessary
Young and Hagan, who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, greeted each other after the vote. Hagan said standing up to speak against the budget is the kind of thing he does all the time. 

“There’s nothing that was politically inspired. It was inspired by the fact that we should be talking about the revenue that is out there available and we should be using – that three others states are using – and I wanted to make that point because this conference committee is meeting and this would be the only time I could say it publicly what we should be doing.”

And Young says he felt this was the time to bring up his concerns as well. 

“We’ve had a lot of discussions on the floor about Medicaid expansion. But not many folks that have my perspective have stood up and defended that perspective in a cogent, coherent way. And since there was an element of Medicaid in the House version of the budget, there’s a possibility that it could turn up in the concurrence committee.”

Looking ahead
Hagan is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016, but Young hasn’t announced any statewide campaigns. The conference committee starts its work Thursday – the budget needs to be passed by the House and Senate by the end of the month, and there are clearly issues that both sides feel very strongly about.
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