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Government and Politics

Year in review: Ohio House leaders reflect on 2012
Lawmakers passed bills on texting while driving, human trafficking, pension reform and pill mills, left redistricting and severance tax on the table
This story is part of a special series.

Karen Kasler
In The Region:

2012 wasn’t supposed to be a busy year in the Ohio House. All 99 seats were on the ballot, and the budget had passed in 2011.

But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, this year was a lot bigger than many expected.

Karen Kasler - Ohio House looks back and ahead

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The House passed 180 bills in the two years of the general assembly – 89 this year. And Republican Speaker Bill Batchelder says there was a lot of bipartisanship in the last year.  “We had 38 joint sponsored bills in this session, and 15 totally Democrat sponsored bills that came out of committees.”

Lawmakers teamed up to pass bills on texting while driving, human trafficking, pension reform and pill mills. But they continued to squabble, largely along party lines, over measures on guns, education and abortion, including the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which passed the House in 2011 but in December saw some action in the Senate, though no final vote. Minority Leader Armond Budish of Beachwood in suburban Cleveland says voters in November clearly said they preferred the Democratic view on these issues.
“And yet the first bills that get discussed in the state legislature when we come back are defunding Planned Parenthood and the Heartbeat Bill – which are not bipartisan bills by any means.”

Batchelder says there’s no question the Heartbeat Bill will be reintroduced, but he’s hoping next time it will start in the Senate. Another thing Batchelder is confident will be discussed in the new General Assembly – the way the state draws boundaries for lawmakers’ districts. And he isn’t happy about the redistricting bill that the Senate passed in December – which never got to the House.
“Well, very frankly, the Senate did that all on their own. We had not had hearings and I’m not quite sure why they did it that way. I didn’t receive any correspondence from the Senate on it, and neither did my colleague here. We are working that in the modernization committee.”

Budish, whose lost his lawsuit over the Republican-drawn maps for state House and Senate districts at the Ohio Supreme Court, is pleased to hear that.
“I appreciate the Speaker’s remarks and apparent commitment that we are going to work on this, and we’ve had conversations off-line to the same effect. I think nothing’s more important right now than redistricting and reapportionment reform. It’s not sexy. It’s not like some of the things that we do.”

Another issue that kept coming up in 2012 was Gov. John Kasich’s plan to cut the state income tax with revenue from a hike in the severance tax on oil and natural gas drillers. It had been stripped from his budget update in May by his fellow Republican lawmakers. Batchelder says the industry’s potential was unknown, so he was hesitant to go for that tax then.
“It’s pretty problematic. My sense will be that we will know more shortly, and as we learn more, I’ll be willing to look at that. I don’t want to discourage people from drilling in this state.”

Budish says that’s not going to happen.  “A majority of folks on our side believe that raising the tax on the fracking to a point that’s still lower than Texas and still lower than Oklahoma and some of the other states – all of the other states in the country – it makes sense. We’re not going to be driving businesses away.”

With lawmakers soon to take up the governor’s next two year budget, Budish wants the revenue to go to restoring cuts in local government funds. With Republicans owning supermajorities in the House and Senate, there’s the question of whether so-called right to work legislation will be introduced. Batchelder says he doesn’t think so. Budish says Democrats will be ready if it is, and that the Senate Bill 5 fight showed Ohioans don’t want dramatic restrictions on unions.

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