Lame Duck Recap

This year’s lame duck session provided a whirlwind of activity that saw portions of many bills pushed through without much – if any – public input.  Here is a roundup of some of the more consequential bills that saw passage and await action by the Governor.

Expansions to Health Services and Treatment

SB 332 – Infant Mortality

This bill implements some of the recommended changes from the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality’s findings from earlier this year. These changes include a ban on certain crib bumper pads due to a higher risk of suffocation for babies.

SB 319 – Opiate Addiction

This bill creates a regulatory structure for registering pharmacy technicians and revises laws around addiction services including allowing for the opening of for-profit methadone clinics.

SB 27 – Cancer coverage for firefighters

This bill allows firefighters diagnosed with cancer to receive additional benefits, including funding for medical costs, workers’ compensation, and survivor benefits for dependents. 

Education Deregulation for “High Performing Schools”

SB 3 – Education Deregulation

This bill provides an exemption to “high performing schools” – currently 18 schools in Ohio – allowing them to have increased class sizes as well as hire individuals who lack a teaching license to teaching positions.

Local Control Diminished

SB 331 – Pet store regulation; regulation of wireless carriers; minimum wage, worker benefits, and scheduling legislation prohibitions

This so-called “Christmas Tree Bill” combined a host of issues dealing with local control for municipalities. The original piece of the bill prohibits local governments from banning pet stores located in their boundaries from selling puppies procured from harmful breeders.

The wireless carrier portion prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances that would regulate the installation of the new “small cell” wireless technology on  public rights-of-way. Wireless carriers such as AT&T and others may install these cells on existing utility poles without objection from local governments.

Another amendment added to the bill prohibits local governments from enacting minimum wage, worker benefits, and fair-scheduling protections that go beyond state or federal set levels. For instance, Cleveland’s proposed $15 minimum wage increase is in jeopardy due to this change.  This would also prohibit cities from enacting measures requiring employers in their jurisdiction to provide paid family leave policies for their employees.

HB 554 – Renewable Energy Freeze

This bill is essentially another postponement of the renewable energy standards enacted with bipartisan support in 2008 requiring Ohio to both produce 12.5% of its power from renewables and reduce statewide energy consumption by 22 % by 2025. Those standards were subsequently frozen by the legislature for two years in 2014.  This bill does end the freeze, but instead of reinstituting the original required standards it creates a “goals-based” approach for the next two years.  Enforceable requirements would return in 2019.  Should Governor Kasich veto the legislation, the standards would be fully enforceable next year.

SB 235 – Property taxes, temporary unemployment compensation fix, and more

This bill was also a “Christmas Tree” as what was originally a bill to allow local governments to provide property owners with up to a six year tax exemption on increased property values resulting from planned industrial or commercial development saw multiple amendments attached. Some additions included a freeze for unemployment benefits for workers until 2018-2019 while also increasing the taxable wage base for employers from $9000 to $9500, revising pawnbroker regulations, and exempting tangible personal property used in oil and gas manufacturing from the sales and use tax.

Gun Rights Expanded

SB 199 – So-called “Guns Everywhere” bill

This bill as amended expands the locations where individuals with proper permits may bring concealed guns to public universities, day-care facilities, and other public buildings. The bill also exempts active-duty military personnel who have proper firearms training from having to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Women’s Rights Revoked

HB 493 – The “Heartbeat Bill” 6-week abortion ban 

This bill bans all abortions after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is as early as six weeks and at a time before many women even know that they are pregnant. The bill does not offer exceptions for rape or incest. The Ohio House passed the “Heartbeat Bill” earlier in the summer, but it sat untouched until it was added as a floor amendment in the Senate during the flurry of lame duck. Similar legislation was passed in Arkansas and North Dakota, but was struck down by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as it directly violates the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Despite the clear unconstitutionality of the legislation, the bill was still enacted into law.

SB 127 – 20-week Abortion ban

This bill bans all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the woman.  The only exception under this bill is for the life of the woman.  An amendment to include exceptions for rape and incest was introduced by Rep. Greta Johnson, but was tabled. Rep. Janine Boyd also introduced an amendment that would make an exception if there was a severe fetal anomaly that would affect the viability of the fetus that was rejected by a 54-36 vote.  Again, the constitutionality of this bill can be questioned as 20-week bans prevent women from obtaining pre-viability abortions. Additionally, the law could go against the recent Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court decision as it would fail the undue burden test.

Government Shutdown

SB 329 – State Agency Sunsetting

Under SB 329, departments must make an affirmative case every four years to justify their continued existence. Agencies would be required to review and report on the legal justification of rules and procedures, potential for privatization, conduct a multi-year analysis of cost effectiveness and benchmark all regulations against other states. The bill would effectively allow for the dissolution of state government departments, potentially throwing thousands out of work and open the door to privatization, while threatening the effective continuation of public services and programs that provide for the state’s economic vitality and competitiveness.