Ohio Democrats Protest the Pace and Substance of an Agency-Review Bill

Sep 28, 2016

Keith Faber says the system will be a check against a potential "overly political" governor.
Credit STATE OF OHIO

A bill requiring lawmakers review the need for state commissions, boards and agencies passed the Senate along party lines today – with Republicans pushing it and Democrats pushing back. 

The bill had been dropped in May and didn’t get much attention. It hadn’t moved since its introduction –until a hearing just hours before it came to the Senate floor. Both the content and the speed of the bill had Democrats upset.

Sen. Edna Brown, a Toledo Democrat, said putting lawmakers in charge of whether cabinet-level agencies should continue their work could create massive gridlock and is dangerous.

“The entire administration of the state of Ohio could be eliminated through inaction alone. This legislation impacts the core functions of government. It has the potential to change the normal operating procedure of the state of Ohio,” Brown said.

But Republicans said claims like that are exaggerated.

Rep. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican, said the bill simply gives lawmakers  an opportunity to review the work of commissions, boards and state agencies to make sure they’re still doing the work they were created to do.

Gardner said because governors, state lawmakers and other officials have done such reviews, they’ve reduced the number of state employees by more than 16,000 in the last 16 years. 

“Pretty dramatic, so – as we have looked at state government, we have tried to provide efficiencies and evaluate fairly. But this is an additional tool that some would be necessary to continue that legislative evaluation of state agencies and departments,” Gardner said.

Democrats said the bill could create confusion among residents if major agencies such as taxation were eliminated through inaction, and suggested the majority could use the power as a political ploy against a governor of the other party.

But Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said the power is actually a check on an overly political governor.  Faber said the measure makes it clear that lawmakers have the authority to create and review agencies through the regular hearing process and other legislative work – and he railed against those opposed to the bill. 

“Those who are voting ‘no’ because you’re afraid that you won’t do your job or future legislators won’t do their job, shame on you. Those who are voting ‘no’ because you think the process didn’t work very well, my question is, where you been the last six months?” Faber said.

Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) said he’s not against the idea in principle, but implied the only occasional committee and session schedule that leadership has set would make a thorough review of agencies impossible.

“Perhaps the solution that we really ought to undertake is to return to a calendar that allows us to meet frequently enough in committees of jurisdiction to undertake that kind of work. Perhaps that’s not as easy to do as it is to say,” Sawyer said.

Union groups had angrily blasted the bill for being fast tracked with no public input, and said that it opens the door to widespread privatization and to weakening collective bargaining rights. It now moves on to the House, which isn’t scheduled to be back in session till after the November election.