By Terry Fleming // TC Fleming & Associates
The split in the Republican party in the Ohio House of Representatives remains as a major impediment to getting anything done. To refresh your memory, a group of 40 some House Republicans pulled off a stunner when, after last year’s November elections, the supposed Speaker of the House, Jason Stephens, was dethroned before he ever stepped into the role. Stephens was betrayed by those he thought supported him led by Representative Derek Merrin. Merrin, thinking it was he who had a lock on the Speakership began to name his team and key committee chairs, i.e. Finance. However, when it came time to vote for Speaker on the first day of session, Merrin forgot that Democrats also vote for Speaker and they voted as a block for Stephens, who became Speaker with a minority vote from his own party. Now, representative Merrin is making life for Speaker Stephens difficult and the Speaker is walking a tightrope to keep Democrat support.
While some legislation is moving, others are stuck between the two warring sides. One of the bills that did move was the Transportation Budget, skillfully guided through the process by the House Finance Chair, Jay Edwards. The only major difference between House and Senate was some language the House inserted creating rural highway assistance. A conference committee worked out the differences and the $13.5 billion budget passed and the Governor wasted no time in signing it into law.
As expected the very conservative General Assembly is addressing some social issues that generate lots of disagreements. Bills addressing transgender issues, such as prohibiting males from competing in female sports and another bill that would prohibit public schools from teaching transgender subjects. There is also legislation that gives parents a say in their children’s education. Another controversial issue is a bill to provide additional protection for gun owners. Perhaps the most controversial issue of all is an attempt through HJR1, to change the Ohio constitution to require 60% of signatures of electors to get a constitutional issue on the ballot.
Opponents say this is an attempt to keep people from having a say in changing the constitution while proponents say this keeps junk issues that cost a lot of money off the ballot. The hope of supporters is that this issue will be on the ballot in August of this year.
Of course the over $100 billion General Revenue Budget is yet to pass, although the House Finance Committee is close to sending a bill to the Senate. Again, this is the result of good work by House Finance Chair Jay Edwards. This bill is a two year spending budget for the state and needs to be carefully monitored as a lot of language could end up in the bill as it’s over 2000 pages long. There has been some speculation that the beginnings of a flat tax may be in the budget bill and tax cuts are also a possibility. MIRA will be keeping a close eye on this. There was language in the bill from the Governor that would make flavored tobacco products illegal in Ohio but Chairman Edwards assured MIRA that that language would be removed. Two other budget bills of importance to business, Workers Compensation and Unemployment Compensation, have yet to pass and again MIRA will watch both closely.
The trial of former House Speaker Larry Householder and former Republican State Party Chairman, Matt Borges, came to an end with both being found guilty of bribery. They are currently out on appeal.
Lastly, on a positive note, MIRA’s new President and CEO, Bill Wild, and legislative director, Anoosha Vemulapati, hosted 13 Ohio Legislators at dinner in Columbus. Finance Chair Jay Edwards was among them as well as several freshmen legislators. The event was a huge success and legislators commented how impressed they were with MIRA.