COLUMBUS — Work on the biennial state budget continued, a couple of new members were announced for the state’s energy regulatory panel and Gov. John Kasich headed overseas to talk economic development and security.
Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:
1. All Budget All the Time: Members of the Ohio House continued deliberations on the governor’s biennial budget proposal, with an eye toward a floor vote in that chamber in a little more than a month.
Lawmakers are scheduled to take a break from the Statehouse in April, but House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) expects House action on the budget around that time.
“With the Easter holiday, that kind of compresses us a little bit,” he said. “We hope to get it somewhere a little before if not after the Easter holiday so we can get it to the Senate and given them plenty of time to look at the budget….”
2. Budget Opposition: Democratic members of the House Finance Committee continue to slam the executive budget proposal, urging increased state spending for schools, services for the needy and other areas instead of continued attempts to cut income tax rates.
“After six years of the Republican tax shifting, we’ve finally gotten to a point where even the governor’s admitted we’re on the brink of a recession,” state Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) said during a press conference. “… Republicans promised the economy would grow and good jobs would be created with these tax-shifting policies… but these policies of the past have held Ohio back from opportunity and growth.”
3. Abortions: The Ohio Senate relaunched hearings on legislation that would require burial or incineration of aborted fetuses.
Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland) offered sponsor testimony on SB 28 before the Senate’s Government Oversight and Reform Committee. Comparable legislation passed the Ohio Senate last year.
“Last year it was brought to my attention that the Ohio Revised Code does not contain procedures regarding the disposal of aborted infant remains,” Uecker said in his submitted testimony. “In fact, most states lack such policies.”
4. What About Right to Work? Rep. John Becker, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, introduced a public employee right to work bill, prompting public criticism and concern from union and other groups that believe the move would hurt organized labor.
Right to work legislation has been introduced in recent general assemblies, but those bills have not moved.
Asked whether right to work would be finalized this time around, Rosenberger responded, “I think that there’s a lot of pressure amongst other states that are around us. Of course Missouri just recently moved right to work. And I think that a lot of folks … have a belief that that’s still a policy that is important to our state. But then also, you know, there’s a lot of us that still remember SB 5 and what happened … We’re always going to have members that want to introduce bills… That’s in their prerogative to do… They’ll get their first hearings, and we’ll have conversations with the caucus, but I don’t know that we have a game plan going forward….”
He added, “Ultimately for the state, a right to work pathway is one [that] is probably taken through the ballot through that citizen-led initiative….”
5. Flu Time: The Ohio Department of Health continues to urge residents to get vaccinated and take other precautions against influenza, with hospitalizations remaining high and several children’s deaths associated with the illness.
“Influenza vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent the flu, except for infants younger than 6-month old who aren’t eligible to receive it,” Sietske de Fijter, state epidemiologist, said in a released statement. “There are no flu vaccine shortages across Ohio and it is available at most healthcare providers’ offices, local health departments and retail pharmacies.”
6. PUCO: Gov. John Kasich named his picks for two seats on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Lawrence R. Friedeman, a Democrat from Waterville in Lucas County, will take the place of M. Howard Petricoff, who resigned late last year after it became apparent that the Ohio Senate would not sign off on his appointment.
Daniel R. Conway, a Republican from the Columbus area, will take the seat currently occupied by former state Rep. Lynn Slaby, whose term is expiring and who decided not to seek another one.
Friedman currently serves as vice president of regulatory affairs at IGS Energy and has nearly 20 years of experience in the energy sector.
Conway is an attorney with more than 35 years of experience in energy and related industries.
Both appointments are subject to the consent of the Ohio Senate.
7. On the Road: Kasich headed overseas, at the invitation of Republican Sen. John McCain, to participate in conferences on economic development and security. He left Thursday, with planned stops in Germany and the United Kingdom, according to his spokeswoman, Emmalee Kalmbach.
8. More On the Road: Kasich asked state lawmakers to sign off on his plans to take this year’s State of the State address on the road to Sandusky on April 4 at 7 p.m.
Technically, the Ohio House and Senate have to formally approve the request, which shouldn’t be a problem.
“You always are going to have folks that traditionally would like to see it still here at the House,” Rosenberger said. “It is, by nature, the general assembly that the governor’s required to come and give us a conversation. But I think for many, especially like [Rep. Steven Arndt, a Republican from Port Clinton], it has a huge impact for the region….”
9. The Great Outdoors: You still have a couple of weeks to submit comments to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about outdoor recreational activities that are available in the state.
Submissions will be used as the agency develops a five-year Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, apparently known by the acronym “SCORP.”
According to a release, the plan “provides information on recreation trends and serves as a reference document for state officials allocating federal and state grants among worthy projects proposed by park districts around the state.”
You’ll find the survey online at parks.ohiodnr.gov/research.
10. Familiar Face: Wayne County Commissioner Ron Amstutz, a Republican from Wooster and former longtime state lawmakers, was named senior adviser to a new lobbying firm launched by former Congressman Steve Austria and former state Tax Commissioner Tom Zaino.
According to a released statement, “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge resulting from more than 30 years as an accomplished state legislator… Amstutz will advise ZHF Consulting’s clients on a broad range of Ohio public policy initiatives and legislative efforts ….”
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.