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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Much work left undone

STATE lawmakers stuck around long enough last week to choose Ohio's official frog. They even hung in until about 4 a.m. last Friday to complete industry-friendly rules for the four casinos voters approved last November. But they couldn't find time to deal with other important issues before they took off on summer vacation.

Voters likely envisioned $250-million investments in jobs and local business at each gambling site when they passed a constitutional amendment to allow casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. But the legislation, which Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign, allows developers Penn National Gaming and Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, to count even the cost of slot machines as part of that $250 million local spending.

Neither did voters expect the enabling legislation to let gamblers deduct their losses - even losses incurred in other states - from their Ohio state taxes. Legislative commentator Thomas Suddes says that provision could cost the state $40 million a year.

More and more, what was sold to voters as a jobs and revenue creator for the state is looking like a sure bet only for the casino owners and their pals.

The just-concluded legislative session was even more notable for what it didn't do, especially in the Senate, where good bills often go to die.

Attempts to overhaul the state's highly partisan procedure for redrawing state legislative districts is as good as dead. Senators couldn't agree either to give mapmaking power to a committee that would ensure minority-party support or to hold a public competition to find a plan that met requirements for compactness and competition. Now, the only way to get the issue on the November ballot would be for lawmakers to reconvene early and vote before Aug. 4.

The Senate's majority Republicans also didn't think the record number of Ohioans losing their homes was a problem worth addressing. A bill that would stop foreclosures for six months, discourage new foreclosures by charging a filing fee, protect renters from ending up on the street when landlords are foreclosed upon, and require mortgage servicers to register with the state also stalled in the Senate.

Meanwhile, payday lenders will continue to charge effective annual rates of as much as 670 percent on small, short-term loans. Senators couldn't find time to approve a House-passed bill that would prevent lenders from evading the 28 percent interest-rate ceiling lawmakers approved and voters affirmed two years ago.

They did, however, pass a measure to make the spotted salamander the state amphibian and the bullfrog the state frog. The compromise ended a raging controversy over which amphibian would be honored by the state.

In coming weeks, lawmakers will meet with constituents to give an accounting of their accomplishments in citizens' behalf. Those in danger of losing their homes, drowning in the vicious cycle of short-term debt, or being disenfranchised by an apportionment system that rewards the party in power will take comfort in their senators' efforts to settle the great salamander-frog debate.



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