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Year in review: Ohio lawmakers tackle slavery, exotic animals, public retirement
Depite party divides, bills passed with bipartisan support -- and some powerful motivators
This story is part of a special series.

Bill Cohen
After the incident in Zanesville last year, there were signs along nearby freeways to warn drivers.
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In The Region:

This year was a busy one for Ohio legislators. They debated hundreds of proposals for new laws, and they passed dozens. This morning, our statehouse news bureau looks at some of the major bills that have become law. Here’s Bill Cohen:

Bill Cohen on the bills that passed in twenty-twelve.

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This was the year state legislators told tens of thousands of state and local government and school employees: “You’re not going to get all of the retirement benefits you expected.’

The changes they made to state law essentially requires many public employees to work two more years. They’ll no longer get an automatic 3 percent hike in benefits each year, with the annual hikes instead being tied to inflation.

Democrats and Republicans alike said the changes were needed to help keep Ohio’s five financially pinched pension systems solvent. And even the government workers themselves barely uttered a protest.

House Speaker Bill Batchelder had this explanation:

“California, Illinois. As people read the paper or watch TV, they see these funds that are just blowing up and (because of the changes) that will not happen in Ohio.

Another long-awaited change
Text while you drive and you could get a ticket for $150. That’s the thrust of another law passed this year. Safety officials, including Kimberly Schwinn of AAA, said texting is even more dangerous than driving drunk. 

“A driver who takes their eyes off the road for just  two seconds actually doubles the risk of crashing. … When you text and drive, you take your eyes off of the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is long enough to go the length of football field if you are traveling at the rate of 55 mph.”

Lawmakers built into the texting ban especially strong enforcement for 16 and 17 year olds. A few denounced the law as “big brother” government, but others, even some conservatives, said law abiding drivers deserve safe highways.

Human trafficking, felons and jobs
Yet another new law OK’d with bi-partisan support this year cracks down on human trafficking. Numerous reports have documented cases of Ohioans being held in virtual slavery as prostitutes, and Gov. John Kasich was glad to sign the bill.

“I can’t think of a greater evil than to take a young child and destroy them.”

Another non-controversial law passed with bi-partisan backing helps freed felons get jobs. Nate Gordon, who was convicted of passing bad checks as a teen, personified the dilemma many face.

“I have done my time and I paid my debt to society. This record is not who I am; that’s who I was. It prevented me from being employable. So I didn’t have a job for about two to three years.”

Under the new law, automatic bans on ex-felons getting professional licenses – for things like barbering -- are softened or wiped out. And ex-cons with a positive court recommendation can more easily convince perspective employers to hire them.

Controversies on some other bills
Two bills involving animals became law this year. One requires that breeders who raise a lot of dogs be registered and open for yearly inspections by a veterinarian. State Sen. Jim Hues backed the bill.

“This bill is a much needed good start to get the black eye away from Ohio as far as puppy mills.”

This past year was also the year lawmakers cracked down on people who own exotic and dangerous animals. That was in response to a 2011 incident in which a Zanesville man released dozens of dangerous animals and then shot himself to death. Gov. Kasich said public safety demanded the change.

“Imagine being trained to be a police officer, and the next thing you know you are being charged by lions and grizzly bears; it is just really hard to believe.”

The new law sets health and safety standards for facilities housing dangerous animals. Owners unable to meet the standards have started giving up their animals, which caused another dilemma: Wwhere to house them? The state is now building a facility for that.

Expanded gambling
Electronic slot machines at race tracks became a reality this year, thanks to legislators okaying rules for them. Critics charge the move was unconstitutional, because voters didn’t specifically OK the expanded gambling. But supporters called the machines at tracks just an extension of the state Lottery.

Related WKSU Stories

Year in review: Democrats were the big -- but not only -- losers in the Statehouse
Monday, December 31, 2012

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