Abortion, guns, energy among lame-duck topics in Ohio
COLUMBUS — Abortion, guns and other hot-button topics are expected to dominate Statehouse debate during the final weeks of the two-year legislative session.
The post-election lame-duck period provides politicians with a key opportunity to move controversial bills while people’s attention has shifted to other things, including the holidays.
Legislative floor sessions resume in Columbus on Tuesday, with session business likely to conclude by Dec. 8.
A look at some of the issues on the table:
A ban on abortions at the 20-week mark could see action during the lame-duck session.
The proposal is based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain then. The bill’s opponents have challenged the “pain-capable” characterization as scientifically unsound.
Lawmakers are also working on legislation requiring Ohio hospitals and providers to cremate or bury any aborted fetal remains. Two separate bills are in play.
Ohio currently requires providers to dispose of aborted fetuses “in a humane manner,” but that’s not further defined in law. Proponents say legislation would clarify vague rules and ensure the unborn are treated with dignity. Opponents claim the measures are medically unnecessary and burden women.
Other lingering proposals would ban abortions in cases where Down syndrome is indicated and at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.
A concealed-carry bill dormant since last year will be heard again Tuesday.
It would reduce penalties for certain concealed-carry violations and expand the list of premises where permit holders can carry their weapons to include day care centers and public areas of airports and police stations. It would also allow concealed guns within government buildings under specific circumstances.
Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has named an overhaul of Ohio’s unemployment compensation system as his year-end priority.
Ohio, like other states, was forced to borrow from a federal loan fund to keep paying benefits during the recession that began in 2007. The state paid off the debt in August, but analysts say the system isn’t structured to accrue enough during good times to cover benefits during bad ones.
Current overhaul legislation would temporarily increase employer contribution levels, freeze automatic weekly increases to recipients and reduce the number of weeks of benefit payouts from 26 to between 12 and 20 weeks. Compromise legislation is expected.
Renewable energy goals
Kasich has threatened to veto any legislation that eliminates Ohio’s renewable energy mandates, so legislators who favored getting rid of them are working on a compromise.
They’re up against a deadline. A two-year freeze signed by Kasich is set to expire in December. If lawmakers don’t act, benchmarks established in 2008 that were gradually increasing electric utilities’ use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power will resume. The 2008 standards also require utilities to find measurable ways for consumers to reduce their energy use.
The House and Senate are still debating the best way forward, with Republican Sen. Bill Seitz’s bill getting the most attention. He wants to change certain benchmarks from requirements to optional targets.
A host of other bills are also on tap.
One would override local ordinances that regulate pet stores, requiring them to purchase animals from shelters and rescue groups as opposed to from high-volume breeders, which critics say are often “puppy mills” that treat animals poorly.
There’s a possibility the bill could be altered to also override cities’ efforts to enact local minimum-wage increases that exceed the state rate.
Several proposals by outgoing Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican, might also see action as he leaves the chamber due to term limits.
One measure would allow a new commission to set pay levels for elected public officials if voters agree to the idea. Faber says it would take pay increases and adjustments out of the hands of politicians.
Faber has also offered a bill that creates a process for state lawmakers to review and evaluate state agencies, giving them more control over whether various departments continue to exist.