COLUMBUS — The transportation budget is on the move, talks continue on the larger biennial operating budget and a first Republican launched a campaign committee for next year’s gubernatorial election.
Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:
1. Budget Update: The Ohio House is set for a floor vote on the biennial transportation budget, which outlines spending and policy changes for the Ohio Department of Transportation and several other state agencies.
The Ohio Senate will launch its own hearings on that bill on Tuesday at 9 a.m. before its Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee.
Hearings are scheduled through late March, with plans for final passage thereafter.
The Ohio House Finance Committee, meanwhile, continues deliberations on the larger two-year state operating budget, with an expected passage in April, sending the legislation to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
2. Other Bills: That’s not to say lawmakers are completely focused on budgets.
Committees in the Ohio House and Senate considered other bills during the week, and both chambers passed bills during voting sessions.
The latter list included HB 16 and HB 22 (designating memorial highways in Jefferson and Medina and Summit counties) and SB 23 (designating Jan. 31 as Omphalocele Awareness Day).
All moved on unanimous votes.
3. State of the State: Lawmakers also formally adopted resolutions paving the way for Gov. John Kasich to offer his State of the State address in Sandusky in early April.
The request from the governor drew criticism from some members — more than 30 in the House voted against it — but Republican legislative leaders defended the move.
“It is good for the communities,” said House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville). “This is a great opportunity… At the same time, it is an address to the general assembly, so I can see some members’ angst, I guess.”
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) added that it’s a good way to “bring government directly to the people.”
“One of the concerns that we’ve heard over the last few years, and certainly this last election cycle will bear it out, is that I think a lot of people feel like they’re left out of the process, that government is something that’s far away and not easily attainable,” he said. “And this will give people an opportunity to interact directly with legislators… It will give us an opportunity to showcase a key part of our state….”
4. Pastor Protection Update: An Ohio House committee did not move legislation that would provide legal protections to pastors and churches that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages.
Rosenberger said discussions on that bill continue.
“We want to make sure that we’re looking at the bill and making sure it does the appropriate things with regard to what the caucus is looking to do,” he said. “So we’re still having those discussions and we’ll have it back in committee this week.”
Asked whether he expected a floor vote on legislation, he added, “Potentially. We’re going to continue to have that conversation with our members.”
5. School Vouchers: Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) is working on legislation that would combine now-separate voucher programs that provide funding for eligible students to attend private schools, via a revamped Ohio Opportunity Scholarship program.
During a sit-down with Statehouse reporters, Huffman explained his approach — an income-based system that would provide scholarships of $5,000-$7,500 for private primary and secondary schools.
You’ll find a video of Huffman explaining his proposal at youtu.be/-PDYCcdKhic.
6. Marijuana: The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program continues to develop the rules that will control access to the drug for residents.
The group recently released proposals for the authorized use of medical marijuana, with draft rules dealing with the forms of the drug that will be allowed in the state (plant material, oils for vaporizing, patches, etc.).
There also are proposed controls covering “forms considered attractive for children” that “[bar] the use of cartoon characters, resemblance to commercially available candy, and fruit shapes; [prohibit] characterizing flavors in oils for vaping other than menthol and flavors that mimic strain flavors.” Also proposed: “Vaporizing is prohibited for patients under 18.”
You can follow the rule-making process online at medicalmarijuana.ohio.gov.
7. Community Profiles: The Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland think tank, released a series of reports profiling demographic information of Ohio’s legislative districts, with a focus on health and human services.
"State budget proceedings are underway, and legislators are considering many issues that are reflected in the profiles, including poverty, Medicaid and infant mortality,” John Corlett, the group’s president and executive director, said in a released statement. “The data offer valuable insight to every legislator on how these issues are affecting their constituents.”
Copies are available online at www.communitysolutions.com.
8. Wisconsin: Rosenberger played host to Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other lawmakers from that state, announcing efforts cooperate on different issues.
“Our two states have a lot in common and are facing many of the same issues, so their knowledge and input was greatly welcomed and valued,” Rosenberger said in a released statement. “The topics discussed today are top priorities for the Ohio House Republican Caucus, such as addressing the needs of our aging population, focusing on the importance of federalism, and combating the effects of the heroin and opioid epidemic. Our system of government provides tremendous opportunities for states to work together, and today was a great example of how we can learn from one another to shape better policy and help the residents of our respective states.”
9. Campaign Finance: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted announced an adjustment in campaign contribution limits as part of a regular change tied to the consumer price index.
Individuals age 7 and older now can give up to $12,707.79 to statewide and legislative candidates. A chart listing the updated totals, which will be in effect for two years, is available through the secretary of state’s website: (www.sos.state.oh.us).
10. On The Road: State Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson), frequently mentioned among potential candidates for secretary of state next year, will have a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, featuring President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer.
LaRose Tweeted info about the event — $50 per person to attend, with additional costs for sponsors or hosts — saying it was his fourth annual D.C. event.
Speaking of potential 2018 candidates, Huffman said he was not going to run for U.S. Senate. He was one of the Republicans who considered a campaign for that office.
Also, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor filed the paperwork to form a campaign committee for a gubernatorial run.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.