With more than 1,000 bills introduced and more than 150 bills signed by the Governor, the Ohio House and Senate completed their work for the 129th General Assembly with a flurry of activity in the lame duck session. Committees began scrambling after the November election to finish work on outstanding bills, and on several new measures, before the December 31, 2012, deadline. Any legislation that has not been enacted by the end of the year dies and must be reintroduced in the new General Assembly to receive further consideration. Both houses are expected to adjourn for the year this week and not return until the new General Assembly begins in January.
Highlights of the measures passed in the lame duck session included:
- Asbestos bankruptcy trust transparency litigation reform (House Bill 380);
- Overhaul of school district report cards (House Bill 555);
- Increases to minimum coverage requirements for auto insurance (House Bill 278);
- Approval to keep guns in cars in the Statehouse parking garage (House Bill 495);
- Licensing and care requirements for dog breeders (Senate Bill 130).
Two measures that garnered considerable attention but failed to make out of both houses were the Internet gambling cafe ban (House Bill 605) and redistricting reform (SJR 5). House Bill 605 passed the House early in the month, but after two hearings in the Senate and with protesters lining the halls of the Statehouse, Senate President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond) announced that there was not enough time to work through all the questions surrounding it in time for Senate action this year. SJR 5, sponsored by Senators Frank LaRose (R-Copley) and Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), proposed a constitutional amendment to create a seven-member commission of statewide elected officials and appointees of legislative leaders, and required a majority vote for approval of new congressional and General Assembly maps, with at least one minority-party vote necessary for approval. The Senate acknowledged that the proposal did not have the requisite time to make it through the House but believed it was important to introduce the plan to set the stage for discussions next session.
Governor announces plan for Turnpike
After months of study, Governor John Kasich announced that he will not privatize the Ohio Turnpike but instead proposes to leverage the Ohio Turnpike to pay for state road projects by issuing new debt against the 241-mile toll road and leaving it as a public asset. Governor Kasich first advocated for privatizing the Turnpike during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Under Kasich’s proposal, the state would issue $1.5 billion in new bonds and use up to an additional $1.5 billion in matching local and federal funds for transportation projects around the state. Most of the funds generated by the bond issue, more than 90 percent, would be designated for projects in northern Ohio. The legislature will be required to act to allow Turnpike revenues to be spent further than one mile away from the toll road. With the bond revenues dedicated to projects in northern Ohio, the state’s gas tax revenue and federal funds would be freed up for projects elsewhere in Ohio.
The Ohio Turnpike Commission will continue to administer the Turnpike but will work more closely with the state Department of Transportation and get a new name – the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. No job losses of Commission employees are expected should the plan go forward. The plan also calls for tolls for local passenger trips of 35 miles or less paid with E-ZPass to be frozen at current levels for 10 years. All other tolls will be capped at the rate of inflation, or about 2.7 percent annually.
Reactions have been mixed – some local leaders have said the plan preserves the integrity of the Turnpike, while others have decried it as a raid of the Turnpike and its assets. Kasich said he expects the proposal to be included in the next state transportation budget bill, to be introduced early in 2013. For more information on the plan, visit: www.ohturnpikeanalysis.com.
Last 3 House races finally called
Election night last month finished with three House races too close to call. The last outstanding race was finally called on December 14, with incumbent Republican Al Landis declared the winner over challenger Josh O’Farrell in the 98th District by just eight votes. An automatic recount in the race led to several contentious votes by the Tuscarawas County Board of Elections regarding the recount process and Secretary of State Jon Husted was called in to break the tied votes before a winner could be declared. The race in the 7th District between Republican Mike Dovilla and Democrat Matt Patten also was within the margin for an automatic recount. Dovilla was declared the winner in his race earlier in the month. Also, Democrat Nick Barborak prevailed over Representative Craig Newbold in the 5th District after the provisional ballots were counted. With those final two wins, the Republicans in the House were able to increase their majority by one seat to 60-39 in the next session.