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Published: Wednesday, 1/7/2004

House set to tweak gun bill to suit Taft

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A bill allowing Ohioans to carry concealed handguns that Gov. Bob Taft says he will sign might be on the way to his desk as soon as today.

In an abrupt turnaround, the House yesterday voted 85-5 to take back its approval just four weeks ago of a bill Mr. Taft vowed to veto.

The latest vote sets the stage for a new joint House-Senate conference committee to meet today to make the one change the governor said is necessary to win his signature. The entire list of those who receive permits in each county must be made available to reporters upon request.

“I think there will be accountability and there will be an ability to assess and make sure that [the law is] working, that it s law-abiding citizens and not criminals who are carrying,” Mr. Taft said. “Of course, it depends on how we enforce that.”

The House s resolve to square off against the governor on the issue weakened when Senate President Doug White (R., Manchester) made it clear his chamber did not have enough votes for a veto override.

The compromise that is expected to be approved by the conference committee and accepted by both chambers today is essentially the same last-minute offer the governor s office made last month that was rejected by the House.

Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) said Mr. Taft has assured him he will sign the bill if the one change is made. Does he believe him?

“More than I have in the past,” Mr. Householder said.

This marks the furthest that supporters of the bill have come in nearly a decade of trying to make Ohio the 45th state to have some mechanism in place for its citizens to carry concealed handguns on themselves and in their cars.

The bill would allow those who are at least 21 years old, have lived in the state at least 45 days, have undergone 12 hours of firearm training, and have passed criminal and mental health background checks to receive permits to carry through county sheriffs.

Although a defiant House and Senate voted across party lines in December to send the governor a bill despite his veto threat, neither the speaker nor Senate president signed it. The bill never left the General Assembly.

“This was obviously being done behind the scenes to get what they wanted,” said Toby Hoover of Toledo-based Ohioans Against Gun Violence. “The people of Ohio need to remember what these elected officials did in passing [this bill]. One thing it does not do is make us any safer.”

Ms. Hoover predicted that gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association will eventually be back to make changes once the bill becomes law.

Mr. Taft maintained throughout his first term that any bill allowing the carrying of hidden guns must have the support of law enforcement. After negotiations succeeded in winning at least the neutrality of the Ohio Highway Patrol and Fraternal Order of Police, the bill appeared to be on track for the governor s signature. Then he made a late demand that the list of those issued permits be a matter of public record.

The bill that passed both chambers would have made such information available only upon the request of reporters on a name-by-name basis. Mr. Taft renewed his pledge to veto the bill.

“Absolutely, I don t have the votes [for an override],” Mr. White said. “All of those no votes on the [Democrat] side, they re not going to vote to override. This is different from a lot of other issues that might come up.”

He said some “yes” votes on the bill could also be reluctant to confront the governor as they hold out hopes for gubernatorial appointment once term limits end their legislative careers.

Jim Irvine, spokesman for Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said supporters of the bill never expected Mr. Taft to veto the bill over the public records issue after they had come so far in meeting his law enforcement demands.

“The Senate got cold feet on overriding the bill and that gave the governor the backbone to veto it,” Mr. Irvine said. “After getting so much of what he asked for and then saying I want some things I thought up later seemed to be a ridiculous political stance to take.”

State Rep. John Willamowski (R., Lima), a concealed-carry supporter, cast the only northwest Ohio vote against sending the issue back to a conference committee.

“The bar keeps moving,” Mr. Willamowski said. “Things can happen in conference committee. I was satisfied with the bill the way it is. If it doesn t change too much, I ll probably vote for it.”



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