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10 things that happened this week in the Ohio Statehouse

by MARC KOVAC GateHouse statehouse bureau Published: April 21, 2017 10:41 AM
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COLUMBUS -- How are lawmakers going to cut $800 million out of the proposed biennial budget?

We should find out in coming days, as the legislature gets back to work in Columbus.

Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:

1. Break's Over: Lawmakers return to the Statehouse this week, with the Ohio House in session on Tuesday at 2 p.m. and the Senate on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. You can watch both sessions live online (OhioChannel.org).

The House should roll out its changes to the biennial operating budget in coming days.

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2. House Finance: The House Finance Committee, the focus of attention at the moment on state budget issues, has scheduled hearings on the two-year spending plan for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and, if needed, Friday.

The agenda notes a possible sub-bill on Tuesday, with other amendments and possible votes on the days that follow.

3. It's Not That Late, Really: Though it feels like the House budget vote, expected by the first week of May, is later than usual, it isn't outside the norm of recent budget legislation.

Of the last five biennial budgets, three passed the House in April and two moved through that chamber in early May.

4. Senate Ready to Roll: Regardless of the timing of the House vote, Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said his chamber has already started work on the budget, and there should be no problem getting the legislation passed before the start of the state fiscal year on July 1.

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"I think we're going to have it for a shorter time than the Senate usually does, but we're up to the task," he said. " The Senate will be able to pass a structurally balanced budget without a net tax increase by the end of June. That's not a problem."

5. What About That Budget Hole? Obhof also said the Senate's been considering how to deal with shortfalls in state revenue projections for months, so the recent announcement that $800 million would have to be cut from the biennial budget proposed by the governor shouldn't delay action.

"The Senate has been aware that there was a potential problem out there for months," he said. "We've already begun work looking at those issues. I've asked our finance director going back several months now to look at potential places to scale back from the governor's proposal. We have a number of members, including [Senate Finance Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton)] who have been doing that as well. So we're not going to be caught flat footed."

6. Prison Suicides: Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez apparently killed himself in the Massachusetts prison where he was serving a life sentence for murder.

Which prompts the question: How many Ohio inmates have killed themselves?

According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, two inmates so far this year, nine last year and 10 in 2015 took their own lives.

Also, an average of about 13 potentially suicidal inmates per month have been kept on what DRC calls "constant watch" over the past year or so as a precaution.

7. Prison Suicide Postscript: In a report compiled a few years back, state prison officials noted 32 inmate suicides from 2009-13. Of note on the 16 suicides that took place between January 2012 and August 2013:

Inmates who killed themselves had served an average of 65 months behind bars. The range on time served was nine hours to 25 years.

Factors noted for inmate suicide includes "canceled visit from girlfriends based upon ending the relationship," "increased fear and anxiety regarding personal safety," "court denial of sentence appeal," "imminent execution" and "inability to endure lengthy prison sentence."

8. Business Filings: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted reported that 12,827 new business entities filed their requisite documents with his office in March, marking the biggest month ever for formations.

Many of those businesses chose to file online -- three out of four so far this year, according to the secretary.

9. Voting Machines: Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) announced legislation to provide funding for counties to replace aging voting equipment, much of which was purchased more than a decade ago.

According to a release, "Although widespread failure is not occurring, minor glitches are becoming more common with each election and the long term viability of the system has the potential to be compromised. This antiquated equipment is becoming costly to maintain while replacement parts are increasingly hard to find."

LaRose is seriously considering a run for secretary of state next year. Republican state Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) has already launched her campaign for that statewide seat.

Democratic Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) also is seriously considering a run to become Ohio's chief elections official.

10. Familiar Face: Tim Derickson, a former state representative and congressional candidate from southwestern Ohio, was named assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. He served as executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors between the time he left the legislature and his new appointment.

Derickson's name should be familiar -- he served as chairman of the House committee that considered some controversial abortion bills last session.

He also sponsored legislation a few years back designating the second full week of March as Ohio Agriculture Week.

Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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