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Ohio lawmakers get down to work on legislation

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: February 19, 2017 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- The executive budget was formally introduced, there was ample talk about President Donald Trump and lawmakers got down to work on other legislation during a busy early-in-the-session week in Ohio's capital city.

Here are 10 things that recently happened around the Statehouse:

1. Introduced: Gov. John Kasich unveiled parts of biennial budget proposal earlier this month, but the actual legislation was formally submitted to lawmakers this week.

It's HB 49 and is being carried by Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell). If you want to read all 3,500-plus pages, you can find a copy online at www.lsc.ohio.gov/budget/mainbudget.htm.

2. Abortions: It wouldn't be a legislative session without a few abortion bills.

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Ohio Right to Life announced a half a dozen bills it hopes lawmakers will enact, including a new "Dismemberment Abortion Ban" that would "prohibit dilation and evacuation abortions, a procedure in which the abortionist first dilates the woman's cervix and then uses steel instruments to dismember and extract the baby from the uterus."

The move would ban abortions about 13 weeks after conception, down from the 20 week ban signed into law by the governor late last year.

"Like partial-birth abortion, dismemberment abortion is a brutal practice that needs to be done away with," Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a released statement. "Thanks to the work of our pro-life legislature and governor this past general assembly, Ohio now prohibits abortions on babies who can feel pain. But there is still so much more to do. When thousands of human children are being torn limb from limb every year, it is incumbent on the state of Ohio to stand up and put a stop to this inhumane practice."

3. Opposition: Women's health advocates and others are ready to counter such legislative efforts, however.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland offered in a released statement, "Ohio Right to Life doesn't care about women's health. There is not a single thing in their agenda that improves women's health. In fact, the new restrictions they are proposing will interfere with the doctor patient relationship and prevent women from accessing the care that is best for themselves and their families. The goal of Ohio Right to Life is clear: to invoke shame and stigma against women who access abortion and to punish the medical professionals that care for them."

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4. Trump Stuff: The Ohio Bar Association isn't happy about President Donald Trump's negative comments about the judiciary.

"When the judiciary is unfairly attacked, as occurred last weekend when Judge Robart was labeled a 'so-called judge,' the affected judge is, by rule, unable to respond publicly," the group said in a released statement. "It often is incumbent on bar associations, then, to make public statements explaining the role of courts in our government. It is for that reason we issue this statement.

"Recognizing the importance of judicial review, we hope all Ohioans will join us in taking this opportunity to further educate ourselves and others about why checks and balances are critical, and on the importance of judicial review by fair and impartial courts. Let us remember that all public officials take an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. We encourage Ohioans to engage in a thoughtful conversation."

5. More Trump Stuff: Tom Zawistowski, who heads the Portage County Tea Party, called on citizens to put their Trump for President signs back out in their yards as a show of support for the president.

"While some are calling for Pro-Trump rallies, our sign plan will be more effective as it denies the Alt-Left the opportunity to create the physical confrontation with Trump supporters that they so desperately desire," he said in a released statement. "Our signs spoke volumes during the election and they will again now as people show their support in a non-confrontational manner. So put out your Trump sign again and show that you are proud to have elected a president who actually listened to the wants of the American people and is keeping his promises to them."

6. Pastor Protection: The Ohio House's Community and Family Advancement Committee started its work of the session with a hot button bill -- HB 36, which would protect pastors and churches from lawsuits and prosecution for refusing to officiate or play host same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Sponsoring Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) offered in sponsor testimony submitted to the panel, "My reason for writing this bill is to stop a litigation war in Ohio. This language may sound a bit dramatic, but we live in an increasingly secular and pluralistic society where there are many belief systems. I believe Ohioans want to live in a state where ideas are proposed, not imposed on them."

About a dozen pastors or church groups submitted proponent testimony on the legislation for the first hearing.

7. Not So Fast: Other groups aren't supporting the bill, however, calling it a "solution in search of a problem."

The ACLU and other groups say pastors and churches are already have legal protections.

"HB 36 opens a Pandora's box of problems that could significantly roll back marriage equality in Ohio," Lisa Wurm, policy manager of the ACLU of Ohio, said in a released statement. "It may allow businesses or other officials to discriminate against same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court was clear that people should not be treated unfairly because of who they love, yet politicians continue to try and undermine this basic right."

8. Other Bills: Legislative committees in the Ohio House and Senate took up a number of other bills during the week.

Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler offered comments on SB 2, which focuses on Lake Erie and water quality issues.

An interesting tidbit from that session: The state is working to find ways to dispose of materials dredged from the Toledo Harbor and elsewhere, with prohibitions to take effect by mid-2020 banning their deposit in Lake Erie.

According to Butler, "When the open lake disposal prohibition takes effect, alternative outlets must be available for the 1.5 million cubic yards of dredged material that is dredged each year It would take 114,750 dump trucks lined up for 625 miles (from Columbus almost to Boston) to hold all the dredged material that is taken out of Toledo Harbor each year."

9. Along Those Lines: The Ohio EPA also released a new report focusing on efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Copies are posted online at epa.ohio.gov.

10. Familiar Face: Former Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who is currently a judge on the 10th District Court of Appeals, was one of four judges who sat in on oral arguments on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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