Ohio leaders discuss voting, tax changes at forum

Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Online voter registration could be implemented in Ohio as soon as state lawmakers act to pass it, the state's top elections official said Thursday. But its support in the Republican-controlled Legislature remains unclear.

The policy proposal was among many discussed at a legislative preview session for journalists, organized by The Associated Press.

Leading GOP lawmakers told reporters that their caucuses have not taken positions on the online registration. Senate President Keith Faber of Celina said his fellow Republicans have mixed feelings on letting residents in the presidential battleground state sign up to vote online.

Online registration was part of a contentious election bill in 2011 but was later repealed. The issue has been a top priority of Secretary of State Jon Husted, also a Republican.

New proposals to allow people to sign up online have been introduced in the House and Senate, yet they have not gotten far in the chamber. Currently, voters can update their addresses over the Internet under changes Husted made last year.

Husted said a lack of online registration is one of the swing state's voting deficiencies.

State lawmakers have been mulling other changes to Ohio's election law, including a proposal that would eliminate a period in which residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot. Legislative leaders also said they're working on adjustments to the state's renewable energy and efficiency mandates, along with tax changes that include a rate hike on horizontally drilled shale wells.

In other policy debates, the Republican and Democratic leaders were split on the time the General Assembly has spent this session debating women's health issues such as abortions.

Democrats are looking to make women's health matters a priority in the fall campaign, as a number of GOP-backed abortion restrictions cleared the Legislature.

"I don't think we should be down here trying to tell a woman what she can or cannot do," said Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat. He said too much time has been spent on the divisive issue.

Senate President Keith Faber disagreed, saying that jobs have been a priority. He said called it a "nice talking point for political campaigns."

A provision included in the state budget requires abortion providers to inform pregnant women in writing about the presence of a fetal heartbeat before the procedure and share the statistical probability of bringing the fetus to term. Lawmakers also passed funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and abortion-related restrictions on counselors at taxpayer-funded rape crisis centers, along with other measures.

State leaders including Ohio Gov. John Kasich were asked about their stances on the death penalty, following the prolonged execution of a condemned killer this month that led to calls for a state moratorium on capital punishment.

Inmate Dennis McGuire snorted, gasped and repeatedly opened and shut his mouth during his 26-minute execution by a new two-drug method.

Kasich said he continues to support the death penalty. "This does not take away from the fact that I think the death penalty is appropriate," he said at the forum.

House Minority Leader Tracy Heard, a Columbus Democrat, was the only one of four legislative leaders to support a moratorium in earlier remarks.

Others scheduled to appear at the forum include Auditor Dave Yost and Attorney General Mike DeWine.