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Government & Politics

Ohio House Issues Carry from 2015 to 2016: Guns, Abortion and Pot

Montage of Statehouse protests

It was a busy year in the Ohio House: More than 400 bills were proposed, dealing with some of the most challenging issues in the state. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler sat down with the leaders of the House to talk about what happened – and what’s ahead.

The House was the stage for debates on some of the most controversial issues of the year – including gun rights and restrictions. Republican lawmakers passed a bill that would broaden the list of places concealed-carry permit holders can take guns to include daycares, police stations, some parts of airports and other places considered “victim zones.”  And House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said it’s likely that list will get longer.

“I’m a huge Second Amendment supporter, and I think that, at the end of the day, the opportunity for citizens to defend themselves wherever they find themselves is important,” Rosenberger said. “And so, ... continuing to find avenues and ways to expand, that’s going to be something that we look forward to as a caucus and continue to support.”

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger says he supports fewer restrictions on guns.

Democrats called it the “Guns Everywhere” bill, and Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) said it’s a problem for many in his caucus.

“We’re pro Second Amendment, many of us, but ... we don’t like the notion that we can’t have conversations around gun safety and say, ‘Mybe not everywhere, maybe there are some circumstances where this isn’t a good idea,’” Strahorn said. “I’m hoping at some point we‘re not as polarized on that particular issue."

No movement yet on drilling taxes
Another touchy topic is the severance tax on oil and gas drillers. A proposed increase in Gov. John Kasich’s budget was pulled out by his fellow Republican leaders. Strahorn said he shares Kasich’s concern that if the tax isn’t increased by lawmakers, activists will do it by taking it to the ballot.

“As we do it with legislation, then we can monitor it, we can tweak it as we need ... (to) raise it, lower it, redirect money in different places – that becomes a challenge if it goes to the ballot,” Strahorn said. “I do agree with the governor that the severance tax should be higher.”

But Rosenberger is cautious.

“If we’re not careful, it’s going to be an even more temporary resource if we continue to push too high,” he said. “And we have a severance tax now, and I’m also reminded that in the last General Assembly we passed a severance tax at a higher rate, and we got no movement on it anywhere else. So as we continue to look at things – you know, we’re not Oklahoma and we’re not other states that have traditionally had this happen.”

The severance tax is among those under consideration by a commission created in the budget that would study overall tax policy.

More abortion restrictions

"This isn't necessarily about abortion as much as it is about the actual sanctity and dignity of life."

  Perhaps the most active issue in the Statehouse this year was abortion. There were 10 bills dealing with it  proposed in the House and Senate in 2015, most of them seeking to restrict the procedure. And it’s set to be a hot topic right away in 2016 with a bill that would require women to chose cremation or burial for their fetal remains

Rosenberger said it’s an important measure. “This isn’t necessarily about abortion as much as it is about the actual sanctity and dignity of life and how we’re going to take care of that as we continue to process forward,” Rosenberger said. “So that’s why this is important and that’s why you’re going to see this go forward.”

Strahorn said he’s hoping to more emphasis on job creation and education in 2016, though he agrees the issue is important in a different way.

“I’m a big supporter of Roe v. Wade, because as much as I respect how emotional this is of an issue for people, I think it strikes the best balance between the sanctity of life and the rights of the individual to be able to deal with their medical issues and privacy.”

The lawmakers do agree that medical marijuana is a priority issue for 2016, and that there may be support for passing some measure to provide limited access to it.