COLUMBUS - From stopping police from issuing tickets to motorists solely for not using seat belts to potentially allowing more mercury to be released into the air in Toledo, state lawmakers busily added pet projects to the state budget in the hours and days before it was approved.
Along with earmarks of money for projects back home, lawmakers also rolled back strict new rules for septic tanks, renamed highways, tinkered with campaign finance and election law, and declared May "Nutrition and Physical Fitness Month."
Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign the $52.3 billion biennial budget today.
The amendments were slipped into the state budget, but have nothing to do with spending, taxes, or fees.
Lawmakers nipped in the bud a proposal by the merged municipality of Riverside near Dayton to impose income taxes on workers at the portion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base within its jurisdiction.
They provided protections for the rights of custodial parents while they're deployed for military service.
They also set up a study to learn why northwest Ohio has problems holding onto doctors.
"What makes the budget an easy target for everyone to get something in is, first, it is moving," said Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn), who was behind the Wright-Patterson amendment.
Lawmakers also used the budget, at Governor Strickland's urging, to undo an appeals court decision that would have prevented the state environ-mental director from rethinking pollution restrictions on a proposed $800 million coking plant in East Toledo and Oregon.
If the director issues a less stringent environmental permit, more pollutants, including mercury, may end up over and in Lake Erie.
Some of the amendments even had lawmakers scratching their heads.
State Sen. Dale Miller (D., Cleveland) was perplexed why budget-crafters waded into an apparent jurisdictional dispute over the prosecution of crimes in Greene County.
He didn't get a very specific answer, but the amendment was added to the budget.
"Of all the things that are in the budget, I have less understanding of that than just about anything else," said Mr. Miller, part of the committee that fashioned the final budget compromise. "It is going to pass and you know when it's going to pass.
"That measure of certainty is probably the great incentive to folks to get their language inserted into the budget," Mr. Miller said.
He said the Greene amendment was not the turf war it was presented to be in conference committee but rather a clarification over paying for the prosecution of certain offenses in municipal court.
Passage of a state budget is tied to the end of the fiscal year every two years. This one must be signed before midnight tonight.
"We probably had somewhat fewer [amendments] than in previous budgets. There were a good number of financial issues that we had to deal with, so we had to focus on them," he said.
"Also, I think that with split government, a Democratic governor and Republican legislature, everybody knew there would be a higher level of scrutiny. I think that's why maybe there were some things that weren't proposed that might have been proposed," Mr. Miller said.
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