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Published: Friday, 3/12/2010

Put teeth in travel bill

THE Ohio House took a stand of sorts this week, voting 91-6 to require state lawmakers who go home once a week actually to make the trip if they want to be reimbursed for mileage. But failing to give the bill teeth reduces the measure to little more than an empty gesture.

Rep. Jennifer Garrison introduced the bill last December after an ethics complaint was filed against Sen. Karen Gillmor for accepting reimbursement for the 200-mile round trip between the Statehouse and a condominium in Tiffin, instead of the 50-mile round trip between Columbus and the home she shares with her children in the Dublin area. The reimbursement rate at the time was 45 cents a mile.

The Legislative Inspector General's Office tossed the complaint, citing a 2009 Ohio Supreme Court ruling that state Sen. Jon Husted's legal residence was in Kettering, near Dayton, even though he lived most of his time with his wife and children near Columbus.

The problem is that Ms. Garrison's bill, however well intended, is so weak that it's a wonder even six representatives voted against it. The measure neither requires legislators to document their travel nor provides penalties for those who claim trips they didn't take.

In other words, the bill that now goes to the state Senate puts lawmakers on the honor system, a concept that in the minds of many these days is more than a little oxymoronic.

Remember, these are the same folks who run the clever tax dodge that allows members who aren't in Columbus during nonvoting, housekeeping sessions to claim a tax deduction for meals and lodging as if they had been in attendance. If lawmakers can accept public money under those conditions, taxpayers have little reason to believe they're capable of policing themselves - without threat of punishment - on travel reimbursements.

If senators really are interested in holding their own feet and those of their House colleagues to the fire, they will amend this bill so that it is both verifiable and enforceable.

And if they can do that, maybe they can get some lawmakers to spend more than the occasional night in the places where they claim to live.

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