Ohio committee tweaks, passes midterm budget bill

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A Republican-dominated state legislative panel on Tuesday approved a midterm budget bill that would send more money to family and children services and bolster efforts to combat drug abuse.

The sweeping measure also would make changes to campaign finance regulation in the political battleground state, including the elimination of a rule that governs disclosure, disclaimers and timing of campaign spending by labor organizations, nonprofits and corporations.

Democrats questioned voiding the rule, saying it appeared rushed in an election year. Republicans defended the plan as bringing parity to campaign finance regulations.

The rule on such independent campaign expenditures came under the previous Democratic secretary of state. It followed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 that lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said his office did not ask for the rule to be voided, nor was it a priority of Husted.

State Rep. Debbie Phillips, an Albany Democrat, sought to restore the rule in the budget bill, though the GOP tabled her amendment.

"It just looks very troubling on its face that this would show up in such an abrupt and secretive way with no public discussion and making very dramatic changes to the landscape for political expenditures for corporations and unions," Phillips said.

Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, defended the amendment.

"I think we have a playing field that is not level now, and it's because of that rule," he said.

A House GOP spokesman further clarified that the amendment targets a portion of the rule that prevents corporations and nonprofits from spending on elections for one year after they have received state or federal money issued by the state.

"That provision, our members believe, is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech," spokesman Mike Dittoe said.

Dittoe said that while the proposal gets rid of the rule, disclosure and disclaimer requirements for labor organizations and corporations still remain in place elsewhere in state law.

"Changing the rule, even getting rid of the rule, does not affect that at all," he said.

The GOP members defeated Democratic efforts to restore local government funding and reverse several anti-abortion provisions that were included in the state budget passed last year.

The full House could vote on the bill Wednesday.

Earlier, the panel heard testimony on a change made Monday that would allow chiropractors to return young athletes to play after they suffer concussions.

The amendment comes after a new law requiring coaches, volunteers and officials in youth sports organizations to have players who show concussion-like symptoms sit out games or practices until they are checked and cleared by doctors or licensed health care providers.

The Ohio chapters of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics said they opposed the amendment, contending that chiropractors do not have the proper training.

"Their scope of practice does not include the brain and neurologic injuries and disorders," Dr. James Duffee, of the pediatrics group, said in written testimony.