Ohio lawmakers gathered this week to begin their final sessions of the year. Republican leaders in the state House and Senate say they seek bipartisanship. But this lame duck shows signs of being just as partisan as the rest of the flock.
Republicans maintained control of both legislative chambers in last week’s election. Sen. Keith Faber (R., Celina), who is expected to become Senate president in January, says his party wants to work with Democrats to get things done. GOP lawmakers could prove it by starting now.
This week, the House passed a watered-down bill that would regulate large-scale dog breeders. It requires breeders to pay a licensing fee of $150 to $750 and submit to inspections every year by a local veterinarian. Dog retailers also would have to pay a fee of $500.
This is the eighth rewrite of the bill since February, when the Senate unanimously passed a much better measure. The bill doesn’t do enough to discourage puppy mills, but it’s a start and deserves Senate approval.
Of greater concern is a bill approved by a Republican-controlled House committee this week that would endanger the health of tens of thousands of Ohio women. It would push Planned Parenthood to the bottom of the list for federal family planning money administered by the state. The bill is intended to punish the family planning agency because about 3 percent of its budget (although no federal funds) is used for abortion services.
Planned Parenthood’s 32 Ohio clinics would lose between $1 million and $1.7 million a year if the bill becomes law. Affected would be the 100,000 Ohioans, mostly women, who go to the agency for breast and cervical cancer screenings; pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted disease testing, and birth control.
Courts have struck down similar efforts in other states to defund Planned Parenthood. A truly bipartisan Ohio legislature would kill this bad bill now.
Republican lawmakers also are thinking of revisiting a bill that would ban most abortions in Ohio. The so-called Heartbeat Bill is extreme even by Republican standards, and almost certainly unconstitutional. It is a time-wasting pander to extremists and should be ignored.
GOP leaders also may reintroduce a dubious election “reform” measure they forced through the General Assembly this year, only to repeal the new law to keep it off the November ballot. They want to restrict early voting and impose a photo identification requirement, despite the negative reaction such voter-suppression measures have gotten in other states. There’s little chance of bipartisanship here.
Voters last week rejected a plan to change how Ohio redraws congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years, but the issue would be a more worthwhile use of lawmakers’ time. State Democratic chairman Chris Redfern has offered to work with Republicans to reform the highly partisan process. The question is whether the GOP has the will to change the current system, which it controls.
All is not well within Republican ranks either. GOP lawmakers oppose Gov. John Kasich’s desire for a modest new severance tax on oil and gas producers. The governor has made it clear he will have his tax, which he wants to use to reduce the state income tax.
Ohio would be better served if the governor left the income tax alone and used the fracking tax to start to restore Columbus’ massive cuts in state aid to local governments and schools.
The tone set now — bipartisanship or mischief — likely will continue in the next General Assembly. Time to choose.