COLUMBUS - The Ohio House yesterday approved a pair of controversial bills allowing qualifying citizens to carry concealed handguns and raising the tax motorists pay at the gas pump.
Both measures now go to the Senate. Gov. Bob Taft supports the 6-cent increase in the gasoline tax to 28 cents over three years, but he has refused to support the gun bill without support of law enforcement groups.
The gun issue pits rural lawmakers against urban. Toledo's three Democrats, Reps. Jeanine Perry, Edna Brown, and Peter Ujvagi, were the only northwest Ohio lawmakers to oppose it.
“How can any member of this House, man or woman, vote yes when the Ohio State Patrol says the bill imperils every member of that 1,500-member force?” asked Rep. Tyrone Yates (D., Cincinnati).
Under the latest version, approved by a bipartisan 69-28, Ohioans who've lived here at least 45 days, are at least 21 years old, and complete a 12-hour firearm-training course would be eligible to receive a license to carry hidden handguns on themselves and in their cars. Applicants would be subjected to criminal and mental health background checks.
“All of our border states ... have concealed-carry laws that are no more restrictive than House Bill 12,” said Rep. Jim Aslanides (R., Coshocton), the bill's sponsor. “Yet there has been no reporting of widespread gun violence.”
The bill adds language prohibiting the carrying of guns into establishments licensed to serve alcohol, including open-air arenas.
The bill continues to prohibit guns in courthouses, police stations, jails, airport terminals, places of worship, and school buildings. However, it opens the door for guns to be transported into school-safety zones, such as parking lots.
The $4.65 billion, two-year transportation budget bill, approved 63-33, would raise $579 million more a year for roads and bridges by raising the gas tax and license, registration, and auto-titling fees.
It would lower Ohio's drunken-driving standard from a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent, a bow to federal pressure, and eliminate the need for cars to have front license plates in addition to rear.
The bill shifts some gasoline tax revenue from the state, counties, cities, and villages to provide a greater share to townships with more road miles.
When fully implemented, Ohio would have the highest gasoline tax in the region. Reps. Perry, Brown, Mike Gilb (R., Findlay), and John Willamowski (R., Lima) cast northwest Ohio's negative votes.
“Gas prices are up,” said Mr. Gilb. “People are opposed to raising taxes at this stage in our economy. We're in recession. We've got war in Iraq pending. It's just the wrong time.”
But Rep. Steve Buehrer (R., Delta), countered, “That [price] volatility will pass, but the needs of our transportation system will not.”
To gain Republican votes, an amendment was slipped into the bill to exempt cars less than five years old from tailpipe emissions-testing requirements in 14 counties in northeast and southwest Ohio.
“This goes in the wrong direction,” said Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council. “It's not good for clean air. It's not worth putting public health at risk to accommodate a few politicians' agenda.”
The move carries a $25 million price tag to compensate Connecticut-based Envirotest, which has the contract to conduct the testing through 2005. To find the money, the bill would establish a 50-cent per-day fee statewide on rental cars.
“This tax is unfair for most Ohioans,” said anti-tax activist Scott Pullins. “E-Check is only required in a handful of counties in Ohio, but this new tax will be charged in every county.”
The House also voted 94-1 to make a largely symbolic gesture of ratifying the 14th Amendment, 135 years after it became a part of the U.S. Constitution.
Ohio is the last state that was part of the union in 1868 to ratify the amendment, which guarantees all persons “equal protection of the laws,” prohibits anyone from being deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and guarantees that all born or naturalized in the United States are citizens.