Ohio lawmakers return Monday to tackle state budget, abortion and other issues

State lawmakers return to Columbus Monday to kick off the 133rd General Assembly with opening day ceremonies that include swearing in new members, voting for leadership posts and holding a joint session of the House and Senate.

Once the pomp and circumstance clears, lawmakers are likely to work on issues left on the 2018 cutting room floor such as the heartbeat abortion ban, which would outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected; additional restrictions on vicious dogs; and eliminating the duty to retreat, which would allow Ohioans to use deadly force when facing threats in public places.

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Republican legislative leaders have indicated they have ambitious plans to reform Ohio’s criminal drug sentencing laws, change how citizens can put issues on the statewide ballot, reduce the number of government regulations, deploy broadband internet to under served areas and fix the chronically under-funded unemployment compensation fund.

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said his priorities are: education funding, increasing the state minimum wage by $2 an hour, addressing the opiate addiction crisis, and putting teeth into state gun laws to help curb violence.

“We got a lot of work to do and I’m pumped up and ready to go,” he said.

Also early in 2019, lawmakers will adopt a nearly $4-billion transportation budget bill and a $70-billion operating budget bill. The main budget is typically a heavy lift sucks up enormous time and energy.

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The budget, which will be proposed by incoming governor Mike DeWine by March 15, not only lays out spending priorities, it is also is a vehicle for policy decisions such as tuition freezes, K-12 funding formulas, tax rates, Medicaid rules and more.

The state fiscal year begins July 1 so lawmakers in both chambers have to agree to a budget bill by June 30.

The opening day ceremonies on Monday could take much longer in the Ohio House where a fractured GOP caucus is fighting over who will be speaker for the two-year session: Larry Householder, R-Glenford, a former speaker looking to return to power, or Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, who held the job for the last six months.

In April, Clarksville Republican Cliff Rosenberger stepped down as speaker amid an FBI investigation into how he handled a payday lending reform bill. The intraparty fight over his replacement delayed House sessions until June when Smith captured the post after 11 rounds of voting.

Ryan Smith and Larry Householder
Photo: Columbus Bureau

In a closed-door caucus meeting last month, Smith seems to have the most support for the job but he still fell short of the 50 Republican votes needed.

So on Monday, it may take multiple rounds — again — to select a speaker.

Speaker is one of the most powerful political posts in state government. He or she has the power to block or move legislation and has a major say in how the state spends billions of dollars, regulates massive industries and operates government functions.

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