Ohio lawmakers passed their fair share of far-reaching and controversial bills in 2015. Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles reports that the budget was perhaps the most extensive measure passed last year.
The budget was certainly the biggest measure passed in 2015 in terms of size and scope. Republican Senate President Keith Faber touted the part of that plan that cut income taxes 6.3 percent across the board for individuals and eliminated the tax burden for businesses earning less than $250,000.
“We are continuing today to build on our commitment to fund what matters and to return to the taxpayers that which is not essential.”
But Democrats in the Ohio Legislature said the bulk of those tax cuts would benefit wealthy Ohioans. Sen. Cecil Thomas says the average Ohio family would only get a $13 tax cut.
“I’ve got a grandchild. Have you ever tried to feed a grandchild, a grandchild who is a teenager, on $13 when you take them out? That might get you a pizza.”
A few things that didn't make the budget cut
Republicans stripped from Gov. John Kasich's budget his proposed tax increases on oil and gas drillers, on tobacco products and in the commercial activity tax. But the final budget did include a 35 cent increase in the tax on cigarettes.
There were other parts of the budget that Democrats also opposed, some of which they said were included at the last minute, without even having committee hearings on them. One was a controversial plan that said abortion clinics must have transfer agreements with hospitals no more than 30 miles away to stay in business.
But Faber says some would vote against the budget, no matter what.
“Sometimes it’s your constituents, sometimes it is your principles and sometimes it’s that you didn’t get the right color sprinkle on top of your cupcake.”
The focus on education
The Ohio Legislature also took up the issue of how to add more accountability, transparency and quality to the state's charter schools. Lawmakers voted to prohibit sponsor-hopping -- when low-performing charter schools go shopping for new sponsors with lower standards if old sponsors pull their support.
Republican Education Committee Chair Sen. Peggy Lehner believes all these new measures will create a more welcoming environment for other charter school operators looking to move to Ohio.
“That is one of the first and foremost purposes of this legislation they have let us know it’s kind of the wild, wild west here. Until we get our act in order, they’re not really interested in Ohio.”
Ohio lawmakers also passed a law meant to deal with the algae problem that caused water in the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie to turn green and sludgy in the summer of 2014. It bans spreading of manure and fertilizer on frozen or rain-soaked fields.
Republican State Rep. Brian Hill of Zanesville answered critics who say the bill didn’t go far enough.
“I know it doesn’t go as far as some would like to see, but we all realize this is a beginning.”
At the close of 2015, however, the Legislature has not come up with a new bill to further toughen regulations.
Ohio legislators also passed laws to provide more access to the anti-opioid overdose drug Naloxone, to eliminate the controversial PARCC standardized tests, to ban powdered caffeine and to delay the presidential primary date by a week to March 15th. It is thought that extra week would benefit Gov. Kasich's GOP presidential campaign.
Bills that didn't make the cut
Opponents called it the "Guns Everywhere Bill." The legislation would let gun owners carry concealed firearms at daycares centers, on college campuses and in certain parts of an airport. It was just one of several bills introduced in the Ohio House to expand concealed carry laws.
That legislation passed the House and now waits for a vote in the Senate.
Another bill, which has stalled in committee would allow Ohioans to carry a concealed weapon in public without training or a license. Republican Repr. Ron Hood of Ashville explains.
“Anywhere where you already have the right to carry open you can simply now put a coat on and carry concealed. So it doesn’t change who can carry; it doesn’t change where you can carry. It just changes whether you can have a coat on or not and that’s simply what the bill does.”
Jennifer Thorne with the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence adamantly opposed that plan.
“This is not going to make anyone safer by taking away any of the training requirements or additional background checks or permitting requirements to carry a dangerous hidden weapon in public and that’s really what we’re talking about here.”
With a record number of Republicans in the Ohio House, lawmakers also came out swinging with several bills to limit abortion and abortion providers. The bills to ban abortions if parents opt for a Down’s syndrome test or once the heartbeat is detected, as well as legislation to defund Planned Parenthood are all in limbo.
Right to work: another stab at Senate Bill 5
In what’s become a continuing trend, Republican lawmakers once again brought a right-to-work provision to the Statehouse. Rep. Tom Brinkman said allowing union dues to be optional would spur job growth and improve union services.
“Maybe an analogy would be a community that was forced to join the YMCA. You are forced to pay your dues. The YMCA can give you lousy towel service and not repave the parking lot and you are still forced to give them your money. When you have competition and you have that choice to join or not join, all of a sudden: They have to compete for those dues.”
Democratic Rep. Alicia Reece pointed out to Brinkman that the voters soundly defeated S.B. 5, another crack at changing union laws, in 2011.
“So my question to you is: Is this bill worth dividing the state when we have already gone to the ballot and people came out in record numbers and said that the Legislature was wrong.”
The latest bill has not gone anywhere since and Gov. John Kasich has said right-to-work is not a priority in Ohio.
Others that came up short
House lawmakers passed a bill to make it easier to put someone in prison for heroin possession. However, this came out at a time when state officials also announced they were going to take a big swing at criminal justice reform, which will include drug sentencing. Even so, the bill seems to be moving through a Senate committee.
State officials were able to make a big change by ending the school assessment known as PARCC, but one standard that has yet to pass is Republican Rep. Cheryl Grossman’s proposal to require cursive writing in school.
“There are proven studies talking about the cognitive benefits of cursive writing -- what that does to enhance people’s thinking skills or their fine motor skills. So there’s all these reasons on why this makes all the sense in the world.”
There’s still a whole year for the General Assembly to approve these measures. However they are also looking ahead at working on the capital budget. The controversial bills that remain in limbo could make for an interesting lame-duck session a year from now.