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Ohio senators outline priorities for 2013

Ohio Senate Republicans and Democrats introduced their top 10 bills for the 2013-14 legislative session on Tuesday, and Senators representing the Miami Valley have their fingerprints on several key issues.

Senators will have time to dig into their priorities while their colleagues in the Ohio House vet Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan.

The first 20 Senate bills show signs of bipartisanship. The priority legislation shares common themes: election reform, workforce development, assistance for military personnel and help for unemployed and underemployed Ohioans. One of the top Republican bills has a Democrat as a cosponsor, and Sens. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, and Frank LaRose, R-Copely, reintroduced a redistricting reform plan that failed to pass the House before the end of last session.

But the two lists also show where the two sides split. Democrats made gun control one of their top 10 priorities, while Republicans included two bills intended to improve workforce training and unemployment. LaRose also sponsored a bill that would pay unemployment benefits to spouses who quit their jobs when their military spouses are transfered out of Ohio.

“Ohio Senate Republicans are working on major reforms that will better connect job creators and workers with quality employment resources from job searching and interviewing advice to career counseling and job training programs,” Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said.

Sen. Shirley Smith, D-Cleveland, introduced a preliminary bill that would ban assault weapons in Ohio, create a firearm and ammunition registration database and limit the magazine size to nine bullets or fewer. Smith said she is still meeting with groups on all sides of the issue and plans to revise the bill after concluding those meetings.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kris Jordan, R-Powell, introduced legislation to prohibit establishing a firearm registry and enforcing registration requirements and a firearms ban.

The Republicans’ election reform bill would ensure all polling places are compliant with the American Disabilities Act, increase journalists’ access to polling places and put in law the longstanding rule allowing voters to cast a ballot if they’re in line when the polls close. The Democrats’ election reform bill would create online voter registration, clarify provisional ballot counting practices and establish default early, in-person voting hours.

Local lawmakers helped shape the Senate GOP agenda. Dayton-area Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, sponsored the No. 1 bill for the Republicans — a workforce training loan program. Senate Bill 1 would create a revolving loan fund for unemployed and underemployed Ohioans who need additional job training.

The program would be funded with $25 million from already-paid casino license fees, through public and private colleges, universities and career centers, with a limit of $100,000 per program and $10,000 per student. Loans would be interest-free for the first six months after completing the training and help sustain the program.

“Priority would be given to programs that are launched in conjunction with business partners,” Beagle said. “We would like the business community to get involved and take advantage of the program.”

Beagle is also co-sponsoring a law enforcement protection bill with Springfield Sen. Chris Widener. The “Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act,” prompted by the death of a Clark County deputy sheriff, would require courts to notify law enforcement officers of violent offenders who are sentenced to mental health treatment rather than incarceration.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, and Beagle are co-sponsoring legislation to put county “one-stop” employment centers under the OhioMeansJobs initiative and require them to use the state’s online job database, to make job placements. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.

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