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Thursday, February 2, 2023

From marijuana to tax cuts: What Ohio lawmakers might pass in the next two years

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Columbus, Ohio — When state lawmakers begin the 135th session of the General Assembly next Tuesday, Republicans will aim to use their record-setting majority to pass an ambitious conservative agenda ranging from expanding school vouchers to reducing — or even eliminating — the state income tax.

Under a legislative redistricting plan pushed by Republicans despite the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly finding it unconstitutional, Republicans will start this year’s session with 67 of Ohio’s 99 seats and 26 of Ohio’s 33 Senate seats — the most of seats won by any party in Ohio. Since 1967, when the current legislative system of individual districts was created.

Also going will be the new Speaker of the House—Rep. Derek Mirren, a Toledo-area Republican who has been a supporter of several proposals that have yet to pass, including a near-total abortion ban and an anti-union “right to work” bill. Senate President Matt Hoffman, a Lima Republican, will lead the Senate again for another two years.

These large majorities are a mixed blessing for the leaders of the Legislative Republicans. It allows them to pass legislation — or even override a veto from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine — without requiring any Democratic votes. On the other hand, the larger the caucuses in the House and Senate, the greater the risk of defections or divisions among Republicans over which bills should pass.

Mirren declined to say in an interview what policies he would like to push through this session, and Senate spokesman John Fortney said it was too early to say what was likely to pass.

However, a number of state lawmakers and others around Columbus’ Capitol Square say they can expect to see a handful of bills that failed to pass the General Assembly in the last session, as well as new proposals.

The most important piece of legislation lawmakers need to pass is the country’s massive new two-year budget, which is supposed to be completed by the end of June. In addition to appropriating billions of dollars, the budget bill is usually embellished with other policy proposals that have little, if any, to do with budget spending – for example, last budget billAmong other things, it placed new restrictions on abortion and allowed college athletes to cash in on their name, image, and likeness.

An important part of the budget process to watch is whether lawmakers continue to fully fund the Cupp-Patterson School Funding Plan, It was passed as part of the last budget bill.

Lawmakers will also move quickly to decide whether to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in May that would raise the threshold for passage of future constitutional amendments from a simple majority to at least 60% of the vote. This proposal was made near the end of the last session however failed to pass. Supporters say it didn’t pass just because some lawmakers who would have voted for it were absent during the last day of the session, and they are optimistic it will pass in the legislature this year.

The proposal emerged as a momentum built for several statewide ballot initiatives in Ohio, including those enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution, raising the minimum wage and changing yet again the state redistricting process.

Pickaway County Republican Rep. Brian Stewart said lawmakers must pass the measure by February 1 for it to appear on statewide ballots in May.

Other hot proposals likely to be brought up again in this session include:

Ohio Department of Education Reform: During last year’s lame-duck session, lawmakers also failed to pass a GOP-sponsored motion to strip the state board of education of most of its powers and give them to the governor’s office. Supporters of the measure say the council has suffered from pointless bickering. Opponents note that Republicans took action on the idea shortly after Democrats won a majority on the State Board of Education last November.

Expansion of school vouchers: Mirren and Hoffman are both proponents of the so-called “backpack bill” It would expand school vouchers so that any student in Ohio could receive a publicly funded voucher scholarship to attend a private school. measure supporters Say Parents should have the freedom to choose whether to send their children to a public or private school; Critics Claim He will take money from already cash-strapped public schools.

Transgender restrictions: Two controversial transgender bills from Ohio failed to pass during a lame-duck session last year, but will likely be introduced again in this session. one would Ohio doctors are prohibited from performing sex reassignment surgery on minors. The other bans transgender athletes from playing girls’ and women’s sports in high school or college.

Marijuana: State lawmakers may try to pass legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio in order to avoid trying to get Ohioans to vote on the issue in November.

Tim Johnson, founder of Cannabis Safety First, says his group is working to get House Republicans to introduce legislation to allow Ohioans 21 and older to buy, use or grow marijuana. Johnson said the bill would combine two unsuccessful bills from the last session – one introduced by Democrats and one by Republicans.

“The idea is to get lawmakers to actually pass a legislative bill” before voters can consider the proposed statute, Johnson said.

It’s also possible that lawmakers will see renewed legislation to expand Ohio’s medical marijuana program. invoice that Senate passed But he died at home last year, and would allow medical marijuana to be prescribed to any condition that could be “reasonably expected” to be exempt from the drug. It would also allow for more dispensaries and allow medical marijuana to be sold in a range of additional forms, including pills, suppositories, and inhalers.

Johnson said a new bill would likely be introduced in the House with the same provisions, as well as new proposals that seek to raise the legal limit on marijuana sickness in Ohio and protect medical marijuana patients with regard to housing discrimination, child custody rights, and others. Criminal justice issues.

Of course, not every bill that legislators consider will be a restatement of legislation from the last cycle. New proposals are likely to include:

Redistricting: The months-long fight between Ohio Republican leaders and the Ohio Supreme Court over drawing new lines for Congress and legislation using one-off maps has ended in the 2022 election. That means the new districts will have to be approved in time for the 2024 election.

Republicans are expected to have an easier time passing the new maps this time around, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ohio Republican Maureen O’Connor, who joined the court’s three Democrats in opposing the redistricting maps, has retired. The Ohio General Assembly will likely approve new congressional districts, while the Ohio Redistricting Commission — which was last de facto led by Hoffman — is responsible for delimitating the new legislative districts.

Income Tax Cuts: Since 2005, Ohio lawmakers have steadily lowered the state’s income tax rates, including by nearly half for the state’s wealthiest residents. But last session, nearly a third of Ohio’s senators sponsored legislation To phase out the income tax completely over the next 10 years.

That effort failed, but with Mirren as speaker, some lawmakers and observers say it’s possible lawmakers could try to either eliminate the state income tax entirely or, at the very least, pass new cuts.

However, for lawmakers to completely eliminate the income tax — which brought in nearly $11 billion last year — they would have to Tough decisions about how to pay for it Through drastic spending cuts, other tax hikes, or some combination of the two.

Earth hit being

After meeting on January 3, as required by the Ohio Constitution, state lawmakers often take a few weeks off before meeting often after the governor unveils the state budget proposal.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case this year for the Ohio House: While the Senate schedule doesn’t say any session days or committee hearings until Jan. 31, House committees are scheduled to begin Jan. 5, and two session days are planned in time. later in the month.

House GOP lawmakers say there will also be two new House committees this year: Elections and Division (to handle redistricting, among other things), and Public Safety, which will look at some of the law enforcement-related legislation sent in. Past to the House Transportation Committees or the House Criminal Justice Committees.

However, Mirren is not expected to announce the committee chairs until next Wednesday, the day before the committees’ scheduled meeting. In addition, most of the House Republican leadership staff in the past session left their jobs as former Speaker of the House Bob Cobb handed the gavel to Mirren.

said Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican who served as the House majority floor leader last session but will be more on the sidelines this session.

Still, Stewart said it would be good for lawmakers to move on bills quickly, rather than sit on them until the end of the two-year session at the end of 2024.

“I think some of these good ideas that were introduced in 2022 didn’t have enough runway to go,” Stewart said, “and we want to give those bills some time to get them through again.”

Mirren, for his part, nullified a question of who cleveland.com/The Regular Dealer last month around so fast out of the gate. “There will be plenty of time to worry about the next session,” he said.

Jeremy Belzer covers state government and politics for Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. Read more of his work here.

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