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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Democrats demand coin inquiry

BY STEVE EDER AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Ohio House Democrats yesterday ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans to launch a full-blown bipartisan investigative committee to get to the bottom of the investment scandals that have gripped state government for months.

All 39 Democratic members of the Ohio House of Representatives yesterday co-sponsored a proposal to create a 16-member legislative committee to examine what took place in Ohio. The committee, armed with subpoena powers, would help suggest government reforms in light of the scandals that began more than five months ago at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

The chances of the committee coming to fruition in the near future remain slim because Republicans, who control all branches of state government, have resisted calls to form an investigative body, at least until Ohio Inspector General Tom Charles has concluded his probe.

Democrats, though, say the only way to get to a fair and accurate understanding of the scandals is to put a bipartisan legislative panel in place and to do it quickly.

"The public trust has been broken," said House Democratic leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) in a statement announcing the legislation. "We need to ensure that all who have done wrong are held accountable and that reforms are crafted that fully address the appearance of corruption in Columbus."

Karen Tabor, a spokesman for House Speaker Jon Husted, said yesterday that the issues that have arisen in state government "deserve review," but the investigations already in place must run their course before it will be appropriate for lawmakers to conduct their own study.

"We want to wait until we have all the results and findings from the various investigations, and at the behest of the inspector general, we are going to go ahead and do that," Ms. Tabor said.

"I'm sure at some point we will review the facts at hand, but not until we get the entire fact set."

She added, "You want to understand everything that is out there. Until those findings come back, it would be somewhat premature to begin focusing on that."

The scandals, which began with the state's failed $50 million rare-coin investment with Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe, have already led to the criminal convictions of Gov. Bob Taft and his former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, on ethics violations, and the resignations or firings of four high-level bureau officials.

The controversy has also spawned more than a dozen investigations.

Mr. Redfern has proposed a committee composed of four Democrats and four Republicans from both the House and the Senate, and led by one member of each party.

He said the panel would be "an important step toward getting to the truth about what happened."

A number of Democrats, including state Sen. Marc Dann of suburban Youngstown, and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a candidate for governor, have called for a panel to look into the bureau and other concerns in state government.

Last month, state Sen. Tom Roberts (D., Dayton) asked fellow senators to form a committee to investigate the bureau. Senate Republican leaders though have decided to hold off on a legislative hearing at the request of Mr. Charles.

Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland) has said legislators will review the findings of the inspector general and then have the option of holding additional hearings, if they are deemed necessary.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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