When state lawmakers return to Columbus on Wednesday, they’ll have a long list of issues awaiting action: abortion bans, a fix for the unemployment compensation system, congressional redistricting, a capital budget bill, and more.
But just seven session days are scheduled between now and the end of 2017 — and five of those days are marked as “if needed.”
Despite a meaty list of issues, don’t expect the same mad-dash to cram through bills before the end of the year. Anything not accomplished this year gets pushed into 2018 since the General Assembly is half-way through its two-year legislative session.
Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate report to work on the following topics:
Congressional redistricting: States redraw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years based on the latest U.S. Census data. In 2015, Ohio voters approved reforms to how state legislative districts are drawn. Currently, it’s a winner-take-all system that benefits the political party in control of three of five seats on the Ohio Apportionment Board. The Ohio General Assembly, in turn, draws congressional district maps. A grassroots group is now collecting 302,591 voter signatures to put a congressional redistricting proposal before voters in November 2018. Lawmakers are interested in crafting a plan independent of what the grassroots group wants.
Unemployment compensation: The fund that pays jobless benefits to laid-off workers went broke in 2009, forcing the state to borrow $3.4 billion from the federal government and then pay it back with $257.7 million in interest.
A fix for the fund has eluded lawmakers for years. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, is sponsoring a bill that would split the burden of shoring up the fund between workers and employers. The bill calls for raising the taxable wage based paid by employers, charging employees a new co-insurance fee, freezing the amount of weekly benefits for 10 years and limiting other payments to workers.
Capital budget: Typically, the state passes a capital budget bill every two years to help fund big-ticket items in parks, schools, prisons, universities and elsewhere in state government. The last bill earmarked $2.6 billion in spending, including money for community projects.
On top of bills to consider, lawmakers need to fill two vacancies — one in each chamber — created by abrupt resignations over misconduct.
Findlay Republican Cliff Hite resigned his senate seat in mid-October when allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a woman who works for the Legislative Service Commission.
Cardington Republican Wes Goodman resigned his house seat on Nov. 15 over inappropriate conduct in his state office. Goodman, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, is a conservative who espouses family values and is married to a woman. The Washington Post and other media outlets reported that he was a closeted gay man who propositioned men.