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Lawmakers Pass Dozens Of Bills In Lengthy Sessions, But Some Work Still Unfinished

Omnibus legislation that initially dealt with funding for Lake Erie improvements that was stuffed with appropriations and other changes is headed to Gov. John Kasich's desk after the Senate approved the amendments Thursday.

It was just one of dozens of bills bound for the governor after a whirlwind day of lawmaking to wrap up most of the work of the 132nd General Assembly bled into the early hours of Friday.

The Senate adjourned shortly after midnight, while the House continued its work past 1 a.m. Despite the marathon sessions, lawmakers are expected to return to Columbus next week, and perhaps later in the month, to finalize bills and override anticipated vetoes by Gov. John Kasich.

Many of the bills dealt with criminal justice issues, and lawmakers also sent a pair of abortion bans and proposed pay raises for elected officials toward potential vetoes. (See separate stories)

The omnibus measure (SB 51) received a slew of changes earlier this week, including capital funding for the Statehouse parking garage, a new Columbus Crew soccer stadium, a flood mitigation project and the governor's residence. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, December 11, 2018)

The Senate voted 29-2 to concur with those amendments, with Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Twp.) and Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) opposed.

Sen. John Eklund (R-Chardon) detailed the House's changes before the Senate Thursday evening.

"Many of these are clean-up items," he said. "Many of these are purposeful capital items that will make Ohio better."

The House passed and the Senate concurred with House changes to legislation (SB 229) dealing with the Pharmacy Board's regulation of controlled substances.

Sen. Eklund detailed the other chamber's amendments, including tweaks to the law for EMS services.

"These are all very salutary and helpful amendments that have been approved and agreed to by all the interested parties," he said. "I don't think they're at all controversial."

A measure (HB 402) to overhaul the state's telecommunications regulations is bound for the governor's signature after passing the Senate 23-8, with the House concurring 64-19.

Sponsor Sen. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), who started the day as a House member before assuming his appointment to the Senate later in the evening, said the legislation will encourage the modernization of local telephone service carriers.

"The last update to regulations for landline telephone service took place in 2010," he said. "The current regulations have not kept pace with the rapidly changing telecommunication marketplace."

Sen. Williams voiced concerns that the legislation could lead to companies significantly increasing rates.

"We still believe there are people in the urban and rural areas who need the service who may not be able to afford it," she said.

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel urged Gov. Kasich to veto the proposal.

"Tonight's vote on H.B. 402 is disappointing news for basic phone service customers, who can include Ohioans living on fixed-incomes, the elderly and rural customers lacking other alternatives," spokesman J.P. Blackwood said in a statement. "Telephone companies supporting the bill, such as AT&T, would be allowed to annually increase charges to basic service customers and, in a few years, could qualify for an exemption from any limits on rate increases."

The House passed 80-1 a measure from Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) to revise regulations on physician assistants, dentists, and dental hygienists. That bill (SB 259) then received a unanimous concurrence in the Senate.

Rep. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said it would make it easier for physician assistants to practice in Ohio. Those positions, she said, "are critical to our quality health care delivery in Ohio."

The House also unanimously adopted a conference committee's report on legislation (SB 86) largely dealing with designations. The proposal picked up an array of designations and license plates moving through the legislature and was accepted by the Senate Wednesday.

A resolution (SCR 21) to encourage Congress to support the development of an Appalachian Storage Hub and a House proposal (HR 518) requesting the Department of Energy promulgate rules allowing states to collaborate with the department on nuclear both passed the House.

The Senate unanimously passed and the House concurred on a measure (HB 41) that sponsor Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) previously said makes "common sense and much needed reforms to our absentee voter and registration laws." The House accepted the amendments by a vote of 59-22.

Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) said she opposed the amended legislation because it could cause confusion among voters.

"People who are everyday people who are working every day … they don't even know the changes we're making until they show up to the polls," she said.

The House also finalized a measure (HB 119) to require the Department of Job and Family Services and the Department of Medicaid to go through a quarterly process to cross-check enrollees' eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The lower chamber concurred by a vote of 65-20.

Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), the measure's sponsor, previously said the legislation will "make government work more efficiently."

Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) said the measure is "creating more barriers for people to get the assistance they need while they are trying to make ends meet."

Legislation to revise several township laws (HB 500), which also picked up last-minute amendments to fund expanded survivor benefits for first responders and offset the cost of prosecuting a high-profile murder case in Pike County involving eight victims and four defendants, passed the Senate after being amended and reported late Thursday night in the Senate Finance Committee. The House later concurred in the changes.

Other measures on the way to the governor are designed to:

  • Revise vision-related health care contracts (HB 156).
  • Require a township to offer compensation to responsive owners of certain unused cemetery lots and rights (HB 454).
  • Require certain public school employees to undergo training in youth suicide awareness and prevention programs once every two years (HB 502).
  • To modernize the notary public law (SB 263).
  • Define "insurance rating agencies" (SB 273).
  • Enable therapists to make diagnoses to treat physical impairments, functional limitations and physical disabilities (HB 131).
  • Change the state's wrongful imprisonment laws (HB 411).
  • Set rules for the treatment and transportation of stroke victims (HB 464).
  • Clarify the status of franchisees and franchisors regarding employment law (HB 494).
  • Allow health care providers licensed in other states to take part in charity health care events (HB 541).
  • Modify the probate process, including disqualifying a person convicted of involuntary manslaughter from benefiting from the victim's death (HB 595).
  • Establish requirements governing multi-parcel auctions (HB 480).

Unfinished Business: A handful of measures acted upon Thursday didn't reach the end of their legislative journeys.

Legislation to require state occupational licensing agencies to issue temporary licenses to members of the military and spouses licensed in another jurisdiction and have moved to Ohio for active duty (SB 320) passed the Senate unanimously.

With the Senate adjourning before the House, a handful of bills coming out of the latter chamber early Friday morning will have to wait until next week for final consideration.

Measures passed by the House awaiting Senate action include legislation (SB 21) permitting boards of election to reduce the number of poll workers. The measure, which passed by a 56-28 vote, was amended in the Government Accountability & Oversight Committee earlier in the day to also require property tax levy ballot issues to list the estimated cost of the levy per $100,000 in property value, instead of per $100.

Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) criticized the legislation, which he said could lead to long lines for voters.

"I'm concerned about whether or not this is going to create additional delays for voters on Election Day," he said.

Rep. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati) said the measure was "simply establishing a minimum" and would not lead to reductions without local action.

Legislators approved the bill after Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) put forward an amendment to establish automatic voter registration, which was tabled.

The House also unanimously passed a measure (SB 214) banning female genital mutilation after adopting an amendment put forward by Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) incorporating a legislation (HB 451) dealing with public records law exemptions.

A measure (HB 461) mandating juvenile courts hold charges in abeyance if they may be related to human trafficking or prostitution passed by a vote of 82-3, with Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Cincinnati), Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and John Becker (R-Union Twp.) voting in opposition.

The lower chamber unanimously approved a bill (SB 265) allowing pharmacists to be reimbursed by insurers for health care services. The legislation was amended in committee earlier in the day to incorporate language mirroring two measures (SB 56 and HB 72) allowing residents to receive exemptions from insurers' step protocols.

Another measure (SB 268) passed unanimously increases penalties for high-dollar cases of theft in office. The measure was amended in committee earlier in the day to incorporate provisions of a bill (HB 10) legalizing intrastate crowdfunding and another (HB 761) making documents related to convention and visitors bureaus available to the public in certain cases, among other changes.

Rep. Steven Arndt (R-Port Clinton) put forward an amendment stripping the language from HB761 from the bill, which was adopted before its passage.

Also passed was legislation (SB 255) that enables legislative committees to periodically review occupational licensing boards and potentially allow them to sunset. That bill was amended in committee to incorporate a bill (HB 211) requiring home inspectors to be licensed, among other changes.

The House voted 55-27 to approve the measure after Rep. Blessing offered an amendment stripping a change made to the bill earlier in the day in committee, which would have eliminated or made changes to several state boards.

New Member: The chamber seated now-Sen. Hill to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville), who was elected to Congress earlier in the year.

"This seat has sat vacant too long," Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) said. "Sen. Hill is a leader of his community. He's been a great member of the Ohio House."

Senate Republicans chose Mr. Hill out of a pool of nine candidates, including two other sitting members of the House.

Sen. Hill first assumed his seat in the House in 2011, when Mr. Balderson was appointed to the Senate.

"I've followed him twice now into office," Sen. Hill said. "I think that's enough. No more, Troy."