For better or worse: What Ohio’s General Assembly did and didn’t do in 2019
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 29
The Ohio General Assembly’s work in 2019, to borrow words from the Anglican liturgy, deserves criticism not only for what it did, but also for those things it left undone. Even so, Republicans and Democrats reached consensus on some matters, in sharp contrast to Washington’s endless friction. For constructive Statehouse leadership, the legislature’s GOP quarterbacks deserve credit.
True, on core issues to fellow Republicans, the legislature’s GOP majority did what was expected, even if it was misguided. It passed, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, signed a so-called “heartbeat bill” outlawing abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law.
Often as not, though, 2019’s session tended to nuts-and-bolts governance, something eased by good working relationships that Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County’s Glenford, have with DeWine.
Initially, a smooth House session was far from certain; on January’s opening day, Householder, speaker from 2001 through 2005, regained the speakership by overthrowing, with the help of 26 Democrats, last session’s speaker, Gallia County Republican Ryan Smith. Householder quickly consolidated his power, and, on an issue-by-issue basis, continued to work with Democrats.
Among the session accomplishments Obhof highlights is Senate Bill 1, passed in May, that requires state agencies to slash regulatory rules. Then in June, Obhof, who became Senate president in 2017, achieved bipartisan consensus on the Senate’s budget plan, It passed 33-0, the Senate’s first unanimous vote since 2007 on one of its budget rewrites.
Householder noted that the budget, signed July 18 by DeWine, provides record-high state aid for K-12 schools, even while, as Obhof pointed out, the budget cuts state taxes by $700 million. (That sum would have been better spent on state needs, but tax cuts send a powerful message to GOP voters.) On a topic of special importance to Greater Clevelanders, the budget funds DeWine’s H2Ohio program to protect Ohio’s water resources, led off by Lake Erie, a priority Obhof said he shares. The Senate and House did differ with DeWine over boosting Ohio’s gasoline tax. The governor wanted an 18-cents-per-gallon increase to fund badly need road work. The House wanted a 10.7-cent rise, the Senate, a 6-cent boost. Householder and Obhof compromised at10.5 cents, increasing what was a 28 cents-per-gallon tax to 38.5 cents. The increase funds state highway repairs and helps local governments with transportation improvements, Householder said. Meanwhile, on the open-government front, the House finished installing Ohio Channel cameras in all the House’s committee rooms, Householder said, to let Ohioans witness the arenas in which House members review, amend and approve bills.
Beyond the budget, this year’s most hotly debated measure was likely House Bill 6. It requires electricity customers to bail out FirstEnergy Solution’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants, something. Householder ardently pushed for. He said HB 6 in time will save ratepayers a net of $1.3 billion and spur solar energy projects. (Worth noting: HB 6 couldn’t have passed without “yes” votes from some Democrats in the state Senate and Ohio House.)
Much is still on the Statehouse to-do list, some of it likely tackled after March 17’s primary election. This issue should be Priority No. 1: Real school funding reform. Legally speaking, it’s almost 23 years overdue. And that is a scandal.