This year saw a lot of talk at the Ohio Statehouse over big blockbuster issues that have been stewing in the legislature for a while. But after all that talk, several of these issues didn’t really go anywhere.
There were plans to shore up the unemployment compensation fund. A task force to reform congressional redistricting. And a bill to cap high interest rates on payday lending loans. None of these issues saw any real movement. But we’re only halfway through this session, which means this year’s “bills that didn’t pass” can be next year’s legislative wish list.
In the final days of session last year, Republican House leaders committed to reaching a deal with labor and business on the unemployment fund, which pays benefits to people who lose their jobs.
Those interested parties met for negotiations, but never struck an agreement. That’s when Republican Representative Kirk Schuring decided to take the matter into his own hands. “So I took the liberty to take what I heard and digested that and I put my twist to some things in this bill that I introduced HB382 and HJR4 is my interpretation of what happened in that working group. It’s a combination of recommendations that were made by business and labor groups again with my twist to it.”
Schuring’s bill raises taxes on employers and includes buy-in for workers. But both sides still have their concerns. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger planned on moving the piece of legislation out of committee this month, ready for a floor vote in January, but that didn’t happen.
This year’s attempt to change payday lending interest rates took a much different path. The bill from Republican Representative Kyle Koehler and Democratic Representative Michael Ashford would cap those rates at 28%. A Pew Charitable Trusts study earlier this year found 1 in 10 adults has taken out a payday loan from the more than 650 operators in Ohio. The bill was introduced in March and then never moved.
But in November, after the lawmakers and other advocates orchestrated a demonstration of support for the measure, the bill got its first hearing. Now Rosenberger says the caucus is taking a serious look at the provisions. “Still talking about the interest rates, talking about areas where third parties want to come in and of course maybe assist in paying off a loan and making sure those get processed in a way, those are all conversations and there’s many more that continue to happen.”
Several bills were introduced to help struggling power plants. The House and Senate proposed bailing out coal-fired plants with the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, which includes the Kyger Creek plant in Cheshire. Another Senate bill would bail out the state’s struggling nuclear plants. These plans would offer more money to the power plants through an increased charge on electric bills. Every legislation received several hearings but none were passed out of committee.
Meanwhile, the Senate is looking at a House bill that would change the state’s green energy standards from mandating the use of renewable energy to making it voluntary. Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) expects to make some changes to the bill before it gets out of committee. “But the underlying direction that the House was headed in toward scaling back some of the mandates that were put in place about ten years ago is a direction that I think a majority of my caucus supports.”
Republican Representative Laura Lanese’ bill (HB263) giving restaurants the ability to allow dogs on their patios brought in a lot of interest from pet and restaurant owners. "I think having dogs on a patio creates a festive environment. It’s fun," Lanese said. That bill and a similar one in the Senate are is still in committee.
A bill from Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Alliance) would make it illegal for a company to fire or punish an employee for not getting a flu shot. That passed one committee but was referred to another House committee for further hearings.
The House and Senate are poised to move ahead with many of these bills and without another mid-biennium budget from Gov. John Kasich’s office, they have more time to address these lingering issues.