|State budget vote looms; includes sales tax hike on MP3s, e-books|
After months of wrangling, state lawmakers are preparing to grant final approval to the massive policy document laying out Ohio's spending priorities for the next two years. The $62 billion state operating budget is scheduled for floor votes in both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate today. Gov. John Kasich faces a Sunday deadline to sign it. The bill delivers nearly $3 billion in tax reductions over three years to individuals and small businesses.
Some of those tax changes would boost the state sales tax and apply it to digital products, such as MP3s, e-books and videos bought on the internet. If it's approved by the Legislature this week, tablet readers and music listeners would find a 5.75 percent state sales tax tacked on to their items Jan. 1. Netflix subscriptions would be taxed, but not video programming that's part of a cable service package. The proposal would also eliminate a sales tax exemption for magazine subscriptions beginning Sept. 1. Republican leaders see the move as "equalizing" how the state sales tax is applied, because hard copies bought in stores are already taxed.
Committee signs off on dropping two license plate requirement
Ohioans would only be required to display one license plate on their vehicles instead of two under a bill headed for a House vote. Supporters of the bipartisan bill including state Rep. Terry Johnson, a southern Ohio Republican, say it could save the state $1 million annually. Backers say the proposal could also save car owners the cost of having holes drilled in vehicles not built to have front plates. The bill cleared an Ohio House committee this week without debate. The bill would bring Ohio in line with neighboring states. Police oppose the change, saying it cuts in half their ability to identify drivers involved in traffic violations and crimes.
ODOT to investigate falling I-480 signs
The Ohio Department of Transportation is investigating how three signs posted above a Cleveland-area highway smashed into traffic during stormy weather, damaging three vehicles and leaving a man in critical condition. The Interstate 480 signs that fell Tuesday near Valley View were at least 10 feet tall and weighed hundreds of pounds. An ODOT spokeswoman tells The Plain Dealer the signs were rated for winds up to 90 mph, well above the area's strongest gusts Tuesday. She says investigators are looking at metal clips that hold the signs.
Traffic camera ban moves forward in legislature
The traffic cameras used by more than a dozen cities in Ohio are closer to being turned off permanently. The Ohio House approved a ban on red-light and speed cameras on a bipartisan vote. The ban’s co-sponsor, Rep. Ron Maag of Lebanon said they are used to just to raise money, and don’t increase safety. But Democrat Mike Curtin of Columbus said the ban was a “sizable overreaction” to abuses by some smaller communities, and he cited stats from police that show cameras do cut down on crashes at intersections where they’re installed. The measure now moves on to the Senate.
Ohio lawmakers approve increases for human trafficking penalties
Ohio lawmakers have approved a measure that increases penalties for human trafficking offenders and adds protections for victims. The Ohio House unanimously endorsed the legislation Wednesday and it now goes to the Senate. The bill says minors or developmentally disabled people should be considered victims of human trafficking if they're recruited or held captive to engage in sexual activities. Among several other provisions, it requires offenders convicted of solicitation to register as sex offenders if the people they tried to lure are under 18-years-old.
Ohio employers begin getting worker's comp rebate checks
Ohio businesses and public employers have started getting one-time rebate checks from the state's insurance fund for injured workers. Gov. Kasich on Wednesday handed out the first of the $1 billion in rebate checks to a pizza place owner in downtown Columbus. About 210,000 businesses, schools, local governments and others can expect to see money in the coming weeks from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Checks will range from $5 to more than $3 million.
OSU professor gets $1 million grant to study vacant Cleveland lots
An Ohio State professor has received a nearly $1 million federal grant to study 64 vacant lots in Cleveland and ways to manage them and create green spaces. Entomologist Mary Gardiner, who researches and studies insects at Ohio State's Columbus and Wooster campuses, says the grant will also help her develop a biology curriculum for middle and high school students. The Plain Dealer reports that the grant from the national Science Foundation will also help Gardiner study how diverse plant communities affect insects.