Republicans firmly in control of the Ohio Senate promised to eliminate thousands of business regulations, crack down on human trafficking, and change how drug users are treated in the criminal justice system.
“You’ll see us focus on a number of big picture issues,” said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, on Tuesday as he laid out priorities for the new session.
Senate Bill 1 — considered the top priority — will aim to eliminate 30 percent of Ohio’s 247,000 rules and regulations in state administrative code over three years, he said.
A study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found Ohio has nearly 100,000 more regulations than average among other states, he said.
“We should not have 100,000 more restrictions on people’s liberty, 100,000 more roadblocks in the way of doing business,” Obhof said. “Regulations do serve a legitimate purpose. We want health and safety standards. We want to be able to protect workers and people who are consuming products.”
As an example, Obhof noted that Ohio recently eliminated a rule against making and selling alcohol infused ice cream in the same facility, saying government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers on who gets to make bourbon flavored dessert.
When asked if he wants to eliminate regulations against consumer use of fireworks on their own property, Obhof said a bill is in discussion to do just that.
Among other priorities for the Ohio Senate are:
* to remove licensing barriers for military spouses who re-locate to Ohio, allowing them to more easily obtain professional licenses in Ohio;
* to increase penalties for those convicted of promoting prostitution and human trafficking;
* to coordinate a plan for protecting Lake Erie and other waterways from harmful algae blooms and dangerous runoff;
* to create a safe families program, separate from foster care, that allows parents in crisis to request temporary placement of their children with a host family;
* to earmark $100 million in state funds for new school construction and renovations in districts.
Criminal justice reform will be another focus
State Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot that failed, triggered debate in the Statehouse about how people with drug problems should be sentenced in non-violent, low-level felonies.
Related: What is State Issue 1 on the ballot?
Obhof said there should be alternative paths, such as drug treatment, instead of a felony conviction and possible prison time.
He described it as a comprehensive reform effort, but noted it likely will not stretch into other areas such as changing how Ohio courts set bail or making changes to the state parole system.
“We will pass that this spring, one way or the other, so Ohio is going to be at the center of the criminal justice reform movement across the country,” Obhof said.
Republicans control all three branches of state government. Bills passed by the Senate need approval by the GOP-controlled Ohio House and signature by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.