Construction money, guns and COVID: Local legislators look ahead to 2022

There are 10 Butler County projects expected to receive a portion of the $2.6 billion 2019-2020 state capital budget. The budget bill is expected to be approved by the General Assembly and signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich by the end of the month. FILE

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There are 10 Butler County projects expected to receive a portion of the $2.6 billion 2019-2020 state capital budget. The budget bill is expected to be approved by the General Assembly and signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich by the end of the month. FILE

Miami Valley projects, nonprofits stand to benefit from action taken.

When the Ohio General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 19, the state capital projects budget will lead the agenda, area legislators and leadership agree.

The next two months will show what Miami Valley projects and nonprofits may benefit from the capital budget, said state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City. He expects more work on federal COVID-19 recovery funding.

“There’s going to be a lot of emphasis on getting that right in the first few months of 2022,” Huffman said.

The capital budget will fund construction at state universities, community colleges and museums, said state Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg

It’s the top priority for Senate leadership, said John Fortney, director of communications for the Senate Majority Caucus.

The spring session is also likely to see further tinkering with gun laws and property taxes, and more tries at opposing COVID-19 vaccination requirements, according to legislators.

State Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, touted recent work on House Bill 435, the latest of several attempts to keep schools and businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, and offering broad exemptions if they do. It’s now in the House Rules & Reference Committee.

He also looks forward to action on House Bill 227, which passed the House in November. It and a similar bill that passed the Senate would let people carry concealed firearms without a concealed-carry license or training, and says those stopped by law enforcement don’t have to tell police of a concealed weapon unless specifically asked.

State Rep. Brain Lampton, R-Beavercreek, agreed final passage of permitless concealed carry is important, but said his top priority is pushing for constitutional carry — an end to gun permits entirely.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, expects to “finish up work” on reconciling the permitless concealed-carry bills.

“Our members also have a wide variety of broader policy issues and local priorities they are working on as well, including agriculture- and elections-related issues,” he said. “Efforts on this include bills that recently passed the Ohio House both on modernizing our agricultural leasing laws to help farmers and to save taxpayer dollars by eliminating August special elections.”

Senate slate

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce wants to be involved in local spending decisions for federal infrastructure and COVID-19 relief money, said Stephanie Keinath, the chamber’s vice president of strategic initiatives. This spring the group also backs Senate Bill 105, which would establish reciprocal certifications for businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans across Ohio municipalities, she said.

“This was a big priority during 2021, and we are hopeful that we can cross the finish line this year,” Keinath said.

State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, who chairs the Senate Insurance Committee, hopes to soon pass Senate Bill 256, which updates travel insurance regulations and adds help for the insurance industry. He’s personally working on the problem of liability coverage for high-risk teenagers in foster care.

Hackett co-chairs the Unemployment Task Force, and said there will be legislation coming on that subject — especially dealing with unemployment fraud, which has been a major problem in Ohio and nationwide.

He and state Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, want to fast-track a bill improving the state association that protects life and health insurance policies.

Antani said he’s introducing several bills to cut taxes, one to put voyeurism on the same level as other sex crimes, and one to “make Ohio the most military-friendly state in the nation.”

Huffman, whose “born alive” abortion bill and expansion of telehealth both received final passage in the fall, looks forward to likewise securing House passage of expanded medical marijuana.

“Another thing to look forward to would be Senate Bill 277, to temporarily repeal the gas tax increase for five years,” Huffman said.

State Rep. Willis Blackshear, D-Dayton, hopes to see Senate passage of House Bill 3, “Aisha’s Law.” In October the House passed the bill named for Aisha Fraser, a Shaker Heights woman murdered by her ex-husband, former judge and state Rep. Lance Mason, in 2018. It would require police to assess a victim’s risk of murder when answering domestic violence calls, improve referrals to victim services and change related criminal penalties.

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Lipps plans to push for Senate passage of House Bill 105, “Erin’s Law,” which he cosponsors with state Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati. It would require age-appropriate education to prevent child sexual abuse. The bill has already passed the House.

“Thirty-seven states have passed that bill, and I believe Ohio has to,” Lipps said.

House work

This spring Creech hopes for easy passage of House Bill 508, an “equal parenting” bill he cosponsors with state Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton. Fifty-nine House members had signed on at the bill’s introduction, Creech said.

The bill aims to reduce the squabbling over child custody in domestic violence and child abuse cases, he said.

“That’s where all of my energy’s going right now,” Creech said.

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, is the sponsor of three bills he hopes to see passed this spring: House Bill 383, which would increase penalties for illegally possessing a weapon; House Bill 443, to offset required health insurance costs with tax credits for small and mid-sized businesses; and House Bill 496, to create an occupational license for midwives.

Lampton’s priorities include House Bill 283, which would bar the use of most electronic devices while driving; House Bill 161, adding domestic or child abusers to the violent offender database; House Bill 51, offering property tax relief to disaster victims; and several others.

Lipps and state Rep. Mark Fraizer, R-Newark, are sponsors of House Bill 236, which would establish purity and processing rules for kratom, and prohibit its listing as a controlled substance.

Kratom, which has properties similar to opioids and stimulants, is largely unregulated now. Lipps said the kratom industry has asked for help in setting standards.

Lipps also wants Medicaid to cover chiropractic evaluations, require employers to provide pay stubs, and add autism-spectrum disorders to the conditions eligible for medical marijuana.

White said several bills dealing to mitigate COVID-19′s impact on students’ emotional health, academic progress and financial losses are likely to advance this spring.

She will co-chair the state’s Child Care Study Committee, created in the current two-year operating budget.

“We will be evaluating access, funding and long-term sustainability of publicly funded child care and studying ways to improve Ohio’s Step Up to Quality Program to ensure access to quality early learning for our children,” White said.

Among the bills White herself introduced or cosponsors are House Bill 343, which further expands crime victims’ rights under the 2017 state constitutional amendment known as “Marsy’s Law;” House Bill 427, which specifies that coercing someone into prostitution with drugs counts is human trafficking; and House Bill 333, requiring specific job descriptions for school counselors.

Blackshear wants to work on mental health legislation for high school students, but is still laboring over a bill he planned for last fall.

“My first priority is to get my bill — the Neighborhood Protection Act — signed into law,” he said. “This bill would require owners of vacant property to file updated contact information with the county auditor’s office.”

Recently passed bills

In the fall legislators approved a new U.S. House district map proposed by Republicans, but it immediately faced court challenges and accusations of gerrymandered to increase the party’s dominance.

Several competing attempts to ban COVID-19 vaccination requirements failed, but legislators did pass some major issues, such as legalizing sports betting and distributing $4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“The fall was disjointed. Obviously I believe that COVID played a significant role in causing that,” said state Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin. The House Health Committee, which he chairs, was “dominated” by long testimony on four vaccination bills; but those issues should be in Senate hands this spring, he said.

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This spring, however, many committee hearings might be disrupted by the absence or preoccupation of House members, Lipps said.

“You will have significant members of the House in primaries,” he said.

Lampton said he’s proud of passage of House Bill 244, which he cosponsored with Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering. That new law requires public schools to let military children use remote learning when their families transfer between military bases, and let children of active-duty soldiers moving to Ohio to enroll just like residents.

Lampton endorsed a Senate addition to the bill, which bars public schools and colleges from requiring “a vaccine that is not yet fully approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration” — language similar to several failed bills opposing COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

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