Following a month of hearings and well over 1,000 proposed amendments, the Senate approved its version of Amended Substitute House Bill 153, the biennial operating budget bill, by a vote of 23 to 10. The Senate concentrated on including more money for hard-hit local governments and school districts - with $100 million more included for K-12 foundation funding and the use of the House's $50 million annual collaborative incentive fund for local governments going instead directly into the Local Government Fund for general disbursement. Some of the major policy changes in the document included:

  • An overhaul of JobsOhio, the planned privatization of the state’s economic development activities - including provisions such as:
    • removing the governor from active management of the nonprofit;
    • requiring all board members to have CEO or CFO experience; and
    • requiring the Division of Liquor Control to maintain all current operations and duties upon transfer of the liquor enterprise to JobsOhio, including controlling the traffic in beer and liquor and the fixing of wholesale and retail prices of spirituous liquor.
  • Requiring the Director of the Office of Budget and Management to compare and analyze alternatives to privatize the Ohio Lottery and to report back to the General Assembly with a proposal by December 15, 2011;
  • Further overhaul of charter school provisions;
  • Requiring the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to determine a method to distribute the benefit to consumers of the reduction in the assessment instead of recalculating public utility rates based on the cut in funding to the Office of the Consumers' Counsel;
  • Altering the construction reform provisions to more closely mirror the contents of the Ohio Construction Reform Panel Report of 2008;
  • Multiple revisions to the proposed changes to prevailing wage, including raising the thresholds over the next two years to $250,000 (well below the executive proposal of a $5 million threshold) and applying prevailing wage to university projects;
  • Requiring the General Assembly's approval for any privatization of the Ohio Turnpike;
  • Removing provisions regarding oil and natural gas drilling on state park land;
  • Allowing legislators to take a 5 percent pay cut;
  • Elimination of the proposed changes to the New Community Authority law; and
  • Creation of a Joint Tax Expenditure Review Committee.

As in the House, Democrat members of the Senate offered multiple floor amendments. Many of the amendments addressed primary and secondary education concerns, privatization proposals, removing the estate tax repeal, unbundling of the ancillary services from the nursing facility Medicaid reimbursement rate and increasing funding to a variety of social services programs. All Democrat amendments were set aside without a formal vote.

The bill now moves into a conference committee - composed of three members of each chamber - to work out differences between the House and Senate versions.

Speaker Batchelder proposes constitutional reform commission

In a rare move by a Speaker of the House, Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) introduced and appeared before the House State Government and Elections Committee on House Bill 188 - his proposal to overhaul Ohio's Constitution. The Speaker's bill proposes the formation of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to review and issue recommendations for revising the Ohio Constitution. Under a provision added to the constitution in 1912, voters must be asked every 20 years whether to hold a convention - the next vote comes in 2012 - something the voters of Ohio have never approved in the 100 years the option has been available.

While a constitutional convention would be charged with starting from scratch, the proposed commission would look at the current document for recommended improvements. A similar approach was taken in the 1970s, resulting in multiple changes to the constitution - from the tandem election of the governor and lieutenant governor and to conforming Ohio law with federal law granting 18-year-olds the right to vote to county government reform, allowing alternative forms of county government structure. Speaker Batchelder has noted that he believes Ohio faces a number of issues ripe for constitutional review, including the meaning of a "thorough and efficient system of common schools," local control, taxation, governmental balance of powers and other policy questions.

The proposed commission would consist of 32 members - 12 legislators (three appointed by each caucus leader of each chamber); and 20 additional members appointed by a majority vote of the 12 legislative members. Any recommendation of the commission would require a two-thirds vote of the membership, removing the possibility of strictly partisan issues dominating the proceedings. A three-fifths majority vote of each chamber of the General Assembly would be required to place any measure on the ballot for voter approval.

The House State Government and Elections Committee favorably reported the bill out of committee on June 7, 2011. The full House voted for the bill by a vote of 96 to 1 on June 8. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

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