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COLUMBUS — Consider it the calm before the storm, as state lawmakers work behind the scenes on amendments to the biennial operating budget, with changes to be announced soon.
Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:
1. Budget Update: The Republican leaders of the Ohio House began making their budget intentions clearer, announcing plans to strip language out of the two-year spending plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich that would have shifted funding and programing for kids with medical disabilities.
House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) told reporters he planned a press conference in coming days to unveil his chamber’s version of the legislation.
House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) said to expect something the week of April 24, when lawmakers return from their spring break.
Amendments were due earlier this month. Asked how many were sitting on his desk, Smith said, “Thousands.”
2. Tight Finances: The budget bill got a little tighter during the week, with Kasich and Republican legislative leaders saying they would have to cut about $800 million in spending out of the proposed spending plan, following continued soft state revenues.
Smith said the House already was proceeding cautiously on its version of the budget, given the revenue numbers.
“The last thing we want to do is over-extend and have to come back and cut in the future,” he said. “We just have a lot of work to do here in the next couple of weeks to get this bill shaped up to where we want it.”
3. Rainy Day Fund: Don’t expect the governor to support any proposals to tap into the state’s $2 billion rainy day fund to bolster the biennial budget legislation.
Rainy day funds, Kasich said, aren’t used to write budgets.
“The rainy day fund should be used in the middle of a fiscal year to put out fires,” he said. “We don’t want to be frittering [it] away. There have been calls by many people to use it for this and that, and I said no, we’re not going to do that… If we get into ’18 or ’19, we can have some money in there that will help people to shoulder things if you have a storm that comes and is worse.”
4. Washington Talk: Kasich used a couple of press events to urge continued federal funding for Medicaid.
“What I worry about is Washington passing a health care bill that starts to deny these subsidies for people that need this help…,” he said. “I am extremely concerned that out of Washington we’re going to get a health care bill that’s going to cut people off at the knees, and that is a very serious worry. And if they do that… we can’t make up the difference….”
He added, “I am very concerned about future developments in Washington to meet some idealogical goal or some campaign promise. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a lot of the campaign promises that were made during the election have already been thrown aside.”
5. Filing Deadline: You don’t have much more time to file your taxes. The federal and state deadlines are April 18 — that’s Tuesday. More information on state returns is available at tax.ohio.gov.
6. Free Fish: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced the state’s annual free fishing weekend, set for May 6-7, when residents can cast their lines on public waters, including Lake Erie and the Ohio River, without a fishing license.
The agency noted its “six fish hatcheries stocked more than 54 million sport fish in public waters in 2016, including walleye, saugeye, steelhead, rainbow trout, brown trout, muskellunge, channel catfish, blue catfish and hybrid striped bass, which will provide opportunities for more than 1.3 million Ohio anglers.”
7. Blast from the Past: Remember Ed FitzGerald, the former Cuyahoga County executive who ran for governor against Kasich a few years back?
His name was back in the news, via an Ohio Supreme Court decision on law enforcement incident reports, withheld earlier for purported security reasons but ordered released by justices.
The state’s high court confirmed that such law enforcement reports “initiate criminal investigations but are not part of the investigation.”
Justices subsequently released a handful of such reports, dated between 2012 and 2014, that they ruled “are not security records and are subject to release with the redaction of exempt information.”
The reports outlined calls made to FitzGerald’s office by residents that, in cases, were deemed threatening.
One noted that the “county executive perceives this caller as being unstable and sees this call as aggressive threat… The caller’s delusional statements are being taken with seriousness.”
8. Replacement Rep.: Nine people submitted resumes to be considered for the vacant District 35 seat in the Ohio House.
• Hudson attorney Adam VanHo.
• Akron attorney Bradford Scott Carlton.
• LifeStages Advisory Marketing Manager Aimee Cooper of Akron.
• Summit County Council member Timothy Crawford.
• Akron Department of Neighborhood Assistance Customer Service Coordinator Susan Culver.
• Summit County Court of Common Pleas Magistrate Tavia Baxter Galonski.
• Barberton City Council President Frederick Maurer.
• Tallmadge High School teacher Lori Michalec.
• Barberton City Council member Shannon Conrad Wokojance.
A replacement is expected to be seated by early next month. Former Rep.Greta Johnson (D-Akron) left the Ohio House last month to become deputy director of the law department in Summit County.
9. Another Blast from the Past: Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who resigned amid scandal nearly a decade ago, announced that his law firm had filed a class action suit against the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, alleging the group “falsely reported that sonography professionals who took certification exams between September 2016 and March 2017 failed the tests when they had, in fact, passed, and that those false reports harmed affected professionals in a number of ways.”
According to a release, “The lawsuit seeks damages for lost wages, lost employment opportunities and damage to the plaintiffs’ professional reputations resulting from the false report that they failed their certification examinations.”
10. Drug Epidemic: The state Controlling Board signed off on $45,000 and a contract with a Columbus firm to develop an online training system for pharmacy students and others on Ohio’s automated prescription reporting.
According to documents, the state pharmacy board “implemented new regulations requiring increased use of the system by pharmacists in order to stem the tide of prescription drug abuse and diversion. To assist in understanding these regulations, the board is proposing to expand the online training course on the new rules that will provide pharmacy students and health care residents with initial and continuing pharmacy education.”
A federal grant is covering the costs.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.