21 bills were signed into law in Ohio in 2019, including the new $69-billion-dollar two-year budget, a controversial energy bill that reduced or eliminated clean energy standards….and an abortion bill that was put on hold by a federal court before it could take effect.
One of the top priorities for new House Speaker Larry Householder was what he called an energy bill - a controversial $1 billion bailout of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants. The law also did something Republicans had long wanted – it rolled back the requirements that electric utilities get a percentage of their power from renewable energy resources, and it also eliminated utilities’ energy efficiency programs. When he introduced House Bill 6 in April, Householder compared the current approach to a hammer that forces investment into renewables.
“We’re trying to go from the hammer of the mandates and do away with the mandates and instead provide a carrot to those people who are generating energy in the state of Ohio to try to have lower carbon emissions,” Householder said.
That part of the bill cost its sponsors Democratic votes. But subsidies for two coal plants were added in, to bring in more Republicans. But even Gov. Mike DeWine pushed for the bill too, saying nuclear power had to be a part of Ohio’s energy landscape. The new law angered environmentalists and free market groups, who wanted it thrown out. Lobbyist Gene Pierce spoke for them.
"This props up obsolete, super polluting power plants, some of them aren't even in Ohio," according to Pierce.
Pierce led an unsuccessful effort to put a referendum on the ballot so voters could overturn it. It failed in a bitter battle, in which the bailout’s supporters spent tens of millions of dollars on ads linking the opposition to the law to Chinese interests. Much of the money opposing the referendum effort came from dark money groups that didn’t have to reveal their donors.
Tax breaks, tax hikes
The new two-year budget preserved a quarter of a million-dollar income tax break for all small business owners but banned lawyers and lobbyists from taking it. But after legal and logistical issues, the legislature unanimously passed another bill that restored that break – while helping teachers buying supplies for classrooms and eliminating sales tax on feminine hygiene products. That’s an idea many Democrats, like Rep Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) wanted.
“We are giving women and girls in our state more access to products that can help them go to school, go to work, to fully participate in their community.”
But some taxes went up too. Ohioans are paying a higher gasoline tax now thanks to the 10 ½ cent hike on a gallon of regular unleaded in the transportation budget passed in April – a few days after the deadline.
Carnival ride safety, the heartbeat bill and new gun laws
A new law strengthening rules for amusement rides in Ohio was signed in November. Tyler’s Law is named after 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell, who was killed in a ride malfunction at the Ohio State Fair in 2017. And there was abortion legislation that was signed into law, most notably a six-week ban known as the Heartbeat Bill. It’s on hold because of a court challenge, and there’s no sign it will take effect anytime soon.
With the second year of the two year session starting soon, there are several bills that are still working their way through. They include DeWine’s bill that he says will help stop gun violence, an overhaul of drug sentencing laws, measures to halt unexpected medical bills and a plan to ban local bans on single-use plastic bags and containers.
School funding reforms
And the legislature is mulling over ideas on how to reform school funding. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the current method unconstitutional four times, largely because of its over-reliance on property taxes. And as the state enters this new decade, lawmakers say they think they’re close to fixing that formula for good.