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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

State says no deal on concealed guns, slots as lawmakers go home with issues unsettled

BY JIM PROVANCE AND JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Hidden handguns and slot machines remain off limits in Ohio.

The General Assembly went home for the summer yesterday without resolving disputes over legalizing either of them.

Talks between lawmakers and Gov. Bob Taft's office on a bill allowing Ohioans to carry concealed handguns fell apart as the Ohio Highway Patrol refused to budge on its position that guns carried in cars be kept “in plain sight.”

“We think `plain sight' is plain stupid - to take the gun off the person where it's safe and then expose it to other people in the vehicle in plain sight,” said Rep. Jim Aslanides (R., Coshocton), the bill's sponsor.

The bill, which has passed both chambers in differing forms, would allow Ohioans who are at least 21 years old, have lived in the state at least 45 days, have completed a 12-hour firearm-training course, and have passed criminal and mental-health background checks to receive four-year licenses to carry concealed handguns.

The highway patrol also insisted, and the Senate agreed, on a provision that would prevent those caught carrying a gun in a car without a permit from avoiding prosecution by proving a need for professional reasons or self-defense.

The sole exception would be those who can demonstrate that they've recently taken out restraining orders to protect themselves.

The changes made in the Senate prompted Mr. Taft to drop his opposition to the bill. But the changes also prompted gun-rights groups to drop their support.

“The bottom line is this is the first time in 10 years that we got to the point where we could allow a loaded gun in the passenger side of a car without jeopardizing the 70-year history of only three troopers being shot and killed,” patrol spokesman John Born said. “We don't want to take chances with officer safety.”

The Senate didn't tackle a resolution to allow voters to decide Nov. 4 whether video-gambling machines should be allowed at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee canceled its meeting as its chairman accused Democrats of failing to say how many votes they would offer.

Democrats had pushed for reserving at least 50 percent of the state's share of the gambling revenue to be set aside for discounts to about 500,000 of the estimated 2.2 million people without prescription drug coverage or who are underinsured.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati) said backers of electronic-slot machines would try to collect enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, most likely in March. The state's share of the proceeds would be spent on primary and secondary education, he said.

“Why not?” Mr. Blessing said. “We've got seven horse tracks and they should have no problem collecting the signatures.”

Mr. Blessing said he had enough votes to pass a measure to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot with the state's share of the revenue set aside for college scholarships for Ohio's best students and construction of school buildings. But he said the demands of some Democrats to tie the proposal to prescription drugs killed it.

The Senate voted 27-5 to approve a bill to bring Ohio into compliance with the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. It requires school districts to test students in reading and math every year from grades three to eight - and then break out those scores based on race, ethnicity, income, and disability. None of the no votes came from northwest Ohio senators.

The House, however, left the issue unresolved last night when it failed to muster enough votes for the bill to take effect immediately, as the Senate had passed it. The Senate had recessed for the summer and would have to decide whether to return to Columbus to address matter.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who on June 12 had dropped his sponsorship of the bill, citing “intrusive, over-reaching mandates,” said the Senate made several changes to the House-adopted version of the bill.

One change came after legislators learned from the U.S. Department of Education that school districts can continue to administer the reading section of the third and fourth-grade proficiency tests in October and March - with a cumulative passing score to count. Mr. Gardner said legislators initially had thought the federal government required only the test to be administered in March, which would have given students less of a chance to improve their scores.

The Senate also added a provision that would prevent charter schools in several urban districts as long as their proficiency test scores put them in the “continuous improvement” or a higher category. Also, the state Department of Education would be required by Sept. 30 to draft rules for “e-schools,” charter schools in which students use computers and communicate with teachers largely through e-mail.

In other legislative action:

wA final Senate vote on a bill to protect mentally retarded and developmentally disabled crime victims was postponed for the summer after the House added a provision that would have formed a commission to review the executive branch's decisions to close state facilities such as Lima Correctional Institution.

wThe House voted 72-20 to establish restrictions on prescribing RU-486, the so-called “morning-after” abortion pill. The bill moves to the Senate.



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