COLUMBUS - Republican state senators yesterday shut down debate on a proposed Democratic amendment that would have subjected lawmakers to the same criminal background checks they were about to impose on a menu of other professionals.
The move was in response to a House bill authorizing criminal background checks for license applicants for accountants, dentists, funeral directors, optometrists, pharmacists, doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, veterinarians, and numerous other professions.
"We ought to hold ourselves to the same standard that we're holding them," Sen. John Boccieri (D., New Middletown) said.
The GOP majority balked, voting 19-13 to block Democrats from offering the amendment. The bill passed 30-2 with the bulk of Democrats joining in to support the final version.
Afterward, Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) said the chamber voted to block the amendment because it hadn't been vetted through the usual committee process.
"I think certainly if it had gone through the committee process and been passed by the committee, we'd have a vote," he said. He added that the vote was not a suggestion that any legislator had something to hide.
The refusal to consider the Boccieri amendment occurred just moments after the chamber accepted a floor amendment that was not in writing that removed barbers and barber shops from the background-check list. The vote counted on legislative staffers to later work it into the bill.
"They're just making up the rules as they see fit " said Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo). "They allow the process to happen when it's convenient It seems we're over-regulating many different areas. Over-regulation may have a slippery slope."
The Ohio Constitution grants authority to the General Assembly to decide whether anyone convicted of a felony may serve in either chamber.
The Boccieri amendment, like the bill for other professions, would not have disqualified any lawmakers from running or serving if elected based on their background. But it would have required all candidates for the Ohio House and Senate to undergo background checks when they file with county boards of election. The bill returns to the House for approval of the Senate changes.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said the boards and commissions involved in the bill are obligated under state law to consider a person's criminal record when it comes to licensing decisions.
"All the bill does is give those boards and commissions the ability to conduct the criminal background check to allow them to verify what the applicant tells them," he said.
Most Republicans joined Democrats in balking at the provision that included barbers and barber shop operators in the same category as anesthesiologist assistants, dental hygienists, psychologists, physical therapists, and social workers subject to background checks. Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati) said he knows a barber shop operator who's worried he'll lose his license because of his criminal past.
"What is the purpose of this legislation?" he asked. "Are we afraid the public will somehow get injured by clippers, rubbing alcohol, or talcum powder? ... It's just too much."
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