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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2009

Ohio budget top legislative priority, House Dems say

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - After 14 years under Republican control, House Democrats said Monday that help for homeowners facing foreclosure, cash bonuses for Ohio veterans, and tax credits to spur economic development are among their top priorities for the legislative session just begun.

But the symbolic House Bill 1 will belong to Gov. Ted Strickland's just proposed $54.7 billion, two-year budget, which new House Speaker Armond Budish (D., Beechwood), said has to be the chamber's primary goal.

"Over the next few months, we will work closely with all members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, to produce a budget that maintains the safety net for those in need, streamlines government, and invests in our future, all while living within our means," Mr. Budish said.

Senate Republicans, who still handily control the upper chamber, are expected to announce their top priorities today.

A budget must be enacted before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. In the meantime, the newfound House majority plans to push forward with a crackdown on so-called transition accounts, the loosely regulated funds usually formed by newly elected officeholders to raise private cash to underwrite the costs of inauguration events.

The move is a reaction to allegations that disgraced former Attorney General Marc Dann used his transition account to underwrite a private lifestyle well beyond Inauguration Day. The bill, to be introduced by Rep. Mark Okey (D., Carrollton), would cap contributions to a governor's transition account at $10,000 and all other new officeholders at $2,500.

After watching her bill to increase the tools that juvenile court judges may use to crack down on teen violence die in the Senate at the end of last session, Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) has seen her bill given top priority this session thanks to Democrats' clout.

"There were a couple of little quirks that needed to be worked out at the last minute [last session]," Ms. Brown said. "There was not sufficient time to do that. I've been assured that the bill will pass this time."

The bill was inspired by the death of Shynerra Grant, 17, of Toledo, who was shot in her home a few days after her 2005 graduation from Start High School. The suspect, Antonio Bryant, who had a history of harassing Ms. Grant, killed himself at his home.

The bill would require any petition for a protection-from-abuse order involving a juvenile to be filed in juvenile court, which could enforce the order for up to five years or until the would-be offender turns 21. The bill also expands the list of alleged crimes empowering a would-be victim to seek a protection order.

Other Democratic priorities include:

•A ballot issue asking voters to approve a $200 million bond issue for cash bonuses to veterans of the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

•A distance-learning pilot program that would require the offering of three advanced-placement courses at all Ohio high schools via teleconferencing.

Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D., Marietta), one of the bill's sponsors, estimated that equipping some 600 Ohio high schools for such a task would cost about $6 million.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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