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COLUMBUS — The Ohio House and Senate took their sessions on the road to Sandusky to hear Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State address, and lawmakers continued to work on the biennial operating budget during a final week of action before the legislature’s spring break.
Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:
1. The Budget: The state budget bill continued its slow march toward July, with hearings in both the Ohio House and the Senate.
The House Finance Committee had a marathon session, with dozens of representatives of different groups and private citizens offering testimony support of or opposition to the policy proposals offered by Kasich.
Lawmakers have already said they don’t support parts of the governor’s plans, so expect lots of amendments and a floor vote in the Ohio House by early May.
The spending plan for the next two fiscal years needs to be passed and signed into law by the end of June.
2. Other Bills: It wasn’t all budget talk, however. While the Ohio House did not have a voting session during the week, the Ohio Senate did, moving several bills.
Among them was SB 33, legislation sponsored by Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon) to provide clarity in state law on when law enforcement can disclose information to defendants in criminal cases.
“It has come to our attention that in some parts of the state, some judges and prosecutors have some concern about the extent to which they are permitted and do in fact disclose to a criminal defendant in a traffic or criminal case the information of that defendant’s prior criminal record that is contained in the [Law Enforcement Agencies Data System],” Eklund said. “The bill quite simply authorizes that disclosure to be made to the defendant and the defendant’s lawyer ….”
3. Support: Among other proponents, the Ohio State Bar Association is supporting SB 33.
“It ensures defendants may have access to the same information from the LEADS (Law Enforcement Agencies Data System) database as the prosecution regarding their record of convictions,” Ronald Kopp, the group’s president, said in a released statement. “I commend the members of the OSBA Traffic Law Committee for identifying conflicting guidance between the rules governing criminal procedures and statues surrounding use of the LEADs database. Ultimately, we arrived at a legislative solution that will allow both defense attorneys and prosecutors to do their jobs as envisioned under the criminal rules.
4. Also on the Move: The Senate also passed SB 88, which would revamp the membership of local government distress commissions. The House earlier passed comparable legislation, and both bills have the support of Republican state Auditor Dave Yost.
5. Voter Registration: About 1,630 eligible residents have registered to vote online since the system launched earlier this year, including those who met the deadline to participate in next month’s primary.
Josh Eck, a spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Jon Eck, said the numbers likely will increase next year, as residents prepare to cast ballots for statewide and other races.
“We certainly expect a higher number of registrations when we approach a federal election cycle,” he said in a released statement. “There are many parts of the state that don’t have any races or issues on the ballot in May. Also [it’s] possible it could tick up later this year since there will be issues on the ballot statewide in the fall.”
6. Workers’ Comp: The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation board is set to vote on a new $1 billion rebate, as announced last month by the governor and others during a Columbus event.
(Kasich briefly referenced the new payback during his State of the State speech.)
Here’s a little more context on what it’ll mean for private employers, via BWC spokeswoman Melissa Vince:
• The largest rebate will be about $15 million.
• The smallest will be about $79.
• And the average rebate will be about $6,000.
7. Absent from Kasich’s Speech: At least nine lawmakers were not on hand for the governor’s State of the State speech in Sandusky.
Reps. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), Louis W. Blessing III (R-Cincinnati), Anthony DeVitis (R-Green), Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville), Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), Candice Keller (R-Middletown), Gary Scherer (R-Circleville), Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) and Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason) all submitted letters disclosing their absence to the House clerk.
Among the reasons noted were “a previously scheduled engagement,” medical procedures, “a personal matter,” “a family emergency,” children’s “church obligation” and “I will be out of town.”
8. No Attendance Taken: No senators had submitted letters noting their absence as of late Thursday.
And determining just who was in the theater in Sandusky and who was not is somewhat problematic, as there was no formal attendance taken by the Ohio House or Senate, since the joint session was technically not a voting session.
Also, lawmakers who were on hand will not be reimbursed for their mileage to and from Sandusky.
9. Speaking of Sandusky: The governor didn’t mention his soon-to-be-published book directly during his State of the State, though he did touch on the themes that are included — namely, the increasing polarization of politics in the United States and the need to return to a more cooperative, collaborative approach for policy makers with different leanings.
He’s talked about those issues frequently as of late, including during his stop at Amazon just outside of Columbus.
“We feel so divided, so angry at one another,” he said. “We gave up bowling and all we do is study politics and we think we know everything, which we don’t, and we’re divided.”
10. And Speaking of Amazon: Kasich also reiterated his opposition to legislation recently passed by the Ohio House that would soften renewable and energy efficiency standards.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the legislature to take us back… on the issue of renewables,” the governor said. “… Renewables are the wave of the future. That doesn’t mean that these other things, like natural gas and coal, don’t matter — they do matter. But this world is increasingly moving toward renewable energy, and Ohio is moving in that same direction if we don’t stop it.”
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.