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State lawmakers consider sales-tax holiday
Other morning headlines: State lawmakers drop “religious freedom” bill; Calamity days bill hung up in legislature 

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
  • State lawmakers consider sales-tax holiday
  • Patmon drops “religious freedom” bill
  • Calamity days bill hung up in legislature
  • Provisional ballots fall under new rules
  • Firefighters convicted of shift-swapping back on job
  • Natural gas prices falling
  • Stuebenville school employee pleads guilty to theft 
  • State lawmakers consider sales-tax holiday
    State lawmakers are advancing legislation for a sales-tax holiday during the first weekend in August. The Ohio Senate approved the bill Wednesday and now goes to the House. The sales-tax exemption would include items such as clothing, school supplies and computers. The Columbus Dispatch reports the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission estimates the bill would cost the state $36 million a year in revenue, plus an additional $9 million for counties. The County Commissioners Association of Ohio opposed the bill, noting that factors including state funding cuts have left counties more dependent on sales-tax revenue. The bill would need to pass the legislature by the end of April to take effect by Aug. 1.

    Patmon drops “religious freedom” bill
    State lawmakers in Ohio are withdrawing legislation that mirrored an Arizona "religious freedom" bill that has been vetoed by that state’s governor. Sponsor Democratic state Rep. Bill Patmon said Wednesday the bill introduced in December was intended to protect the ability of Ohioans to freely worship and exercise their religious beliefs, not to promote discrimination. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill on Wednesday.

    Calamity days bill hung up in legislature
    State lawmakers are hung up over how many extra calamity days to give Ohio schools this year after hazardous winter weather. The House rejected Senate changes to a bill Wednesday, sending it to a negotiating conference committee after the two chambers failed to reach an agreement. The Senate passed a plan to let schools take up to four additional calamity days this year, with teachers reporting on one. But first, districts must use four contingency days. House lawmakers passed a separate version of the bill that would let schools receive up to four additional days off, with teachers having to report on two of those. Some schools have cancelled classes for 10 or more days.

    Provisional ballots fall under new rules
    Ohio lawmakers have approved a bill setting forth when provisional ballots are counted in the political swing state and what it takes to cast one. Provisional ballots include those cast when voters don't bring proper ID to the polls or cast them in the wrong precinct. The bill passed by the House and Senate Wednesday would put into law a recent federal court ruling that requires provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, but right polling location, to be counted. Some polling places contain voting machines for several precincts. The measure would also require voters to provide their date of birth and current address on the provisional ballot affirmation in order for the ballot to be eligible to be counted.

    Firefighters convicted of shift-swapping back on job
    A dozen Cleveland firefighters who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a wide-spread shift-swapping scheme have returned to work. The thirteenth, Calvin Robinson, is still on leave and now scheduled to be tried in April. All of the firefighters were accused of paying others to fill in for a year or more worth of shifts, while many worked other jobs and still collected city pay and benefits, and accrued seniority. Robinson is accused of taking off more than four years while he ran a day-care center and limo service. The city OK’d the return of the 12 others Wednesday, but decided the men will not get back pay for the eight months they’ve been on unpaid leave. 

    Natural gas prices falling
    Dominion East Ohio and Columbia Gas customers can expect lower bills in March. Prices are dropping for consumers who buy gas through their utility’s variable Standard Choice Offer. Columbia Gas customers will see the cost of gas fall by more than 10 percent on Friday, while Dominion East Ohio customers will see a roughly 11 percent price cut by the middle of next month. However, Dominion’s current price of $6.16 per thousand cubic feet is the highest in several years. 

    Stuebenville school employee pleads guilty to theft
    A former school worker has pleaded guilty to stealing computer equipment in a case that arose from an investigation into a Stuebenville rape. Twenty-year-old Hannah Rhinaman of Mingo Junction pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property and grand theft Wednesday in Steubenville. The charges weren't related to the rape of a West Virginia girl by two Steubenville football players but were turned up by a grand jury investigation into other laws broken in that case. Rhinaman, accused of stealing and selling equipment, was deemed eligible for a diversion program because of drug dependency. The grand jury also indicted the superintendent, two coaches and the technology director, who is Rhinaman's father. They pleaded not guilty.
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