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Published: Saturday, 5/18/2013

Voting change lacks support

State Senate to remove college-student provision

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A provision that House Republicans tacked onto the state budget bill that critics argue would discourage the student vote in Ohio is expected to be stripped from the Senate version of the spending plan.

“I really don’t think there’s a partisan divide on this issue in the Senate,” said Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), chairman of the education subcommittee of the budget-crafting Senate Finance Committee.

“A significant number of Republicans expressed to me opposition to this language,” he said. “Concerns have been expressed by higher education about the costs and the fact that, if indeed out-of-state tuition is lost to universities, there would be more funding pressure on in-state students whose families are already here and paying taxes.”

The House amendment would require any public college or university that provides a utility bill or letter to a student for the purpose of establishing Ohio residency for voting to charge that student in-state tuition.

That is often thousands of dollars less than out-of-state tuition.

The higher education community worries the move could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars collectively, especially once students realize that voting residency could be their path to lower tuition bills.

Mr. Gardner has drafted a proposed amendment to remove the language from the $61.5 billion, two-year budget.

He will present his subcommittee’s recommendations to the full finance committee next week.

The League of Women Voters, other voting advocacy groups, and Democratic legislators have argued the House move was designed to make the universities think twice about providing documentation that qualifies under Ohio law as voter identification.

“They don’t have the votes in [the Senate Republican] caucus to leave that in there,” said Peg Rosenfeld, League elections specialist. “They went a bridge too far. We don’t want to be in the business of restricting the vote. You want to be in the business of expanding the vote. This wasn’t subtle. It was pretty blatant.”

A full Senate vote on a revised budget is expected June 5 with a final compromise likely to be hammered out with the House in conference committee. A budget must reach Mr. Kasich’s desk by June 30.

Ms. Rosenfeld said few bought House Republicans’ argument that they were giving voting students a tuition break with the amendment rather than sending a warning to the colleges.

“The league spends enormous amounts of time encouraging people to vote, including students,” she said. “We know that if you get people to vote and vote two different times [in separate elections], you’ve got them for life.”

Mr. Gardner said lawmakers should have more in-depth discussions on other elections issues, particularly concerns about voters registered in more than one state.

“The whole thing is interesting because there are voter laws that are more restrictive in other states, but no one seems to care about those because presidential elections are hardly ever close in Massachusetts or New York,” he said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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