Ohio House Leaders Talk Over 2016, Forecast What's Ahead For This Year

Jan 5, 2017

State lawmakers have come back to Columbus to start their new year and new session, with the same House Speaker and House Minority Leader. The two recently sat down for an exclusive conversation for "The State of Ohio" about what happened in the long and confusing end of last year’s session, and what’s ahead.

It’s an interesting scenario when Republican lawmakers find themselves feuding with their colleague the governor over vetoes. That’s what happened at the end of last year when Gov. John Kasich vetoed a Republican-passed provision that would have banned abortion at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.

That six-week abortion ban would have been the strictest in the country had it gone into law. While Kasich did sign a 20-week abortion ban, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) wasn’t happy: “We’re extremely disappointed by that veto and think that both provisions were really good.”

Democratic Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) wasn’t pleased with the 20-week ban, but approved of the veto of the so-called “heartbeat bill”. “When we do those kinds of pieces of legislation, we encumber the state probably to spend thousands of dollars in court fighting a battle we know we’re not going to win,” Strahorn said.

There were other vetoes that upset Republican lawmakers, including the striking of a bill to require legislators review executive level state agencies or those entities could disappear, and a measure to extend out the freeze on the state’s renewable energy requirements for electric utilities.

And it’s also interesting when Democrats differ with their colleagues at the local level about a bill. That’s what happened when mayors wanted lawmakers to outlaw local efforts to raise the minimum wage. That ban became part of a huge bill that overturned locally passed rules on pet stores. Rosenberger said state lawmakers wanted to stop local laws from disrupting commerce. “It’s important that we send a message throughout our state that all businesses are welcome in any community without certain restrictions of us telling you how to run your business,” Rosenberger said. “When it comes to the minimum wage language, that was an issue that we had long conversations with a lot of city officials all throughout the state of Ohio that had discussions about wanting it. What it really came down to is, the constitution already answers the question to that – that they didn’t have the ability to do it.”
 

Strahorn pointed out that Rosenberger and other Republicans have said the courts should decide on the issue of constitutionality when it comes to abortion bans, and this minimum wage issue is no different. “My mayors said that’s our decision to make. I would say no. But I don’t like the precedent that’s being set by having these kinds of things inserted in bills that begin to erode home rule,” he said.

Right before the end of the lame duck session, Gov. Kasich came to the House to tell lawmakers that the state is – using his words – on the verge of recession, with income tax revenue is coming in below estimates. With the governor set to unveil his budget in a few weeks, and it’s certain that wasn’t just an offhand remark. But Rosenberger said most economic measures don’t suggest recession. “I’m not at the point of concern that we’re headed there. I think we have ways to continue to do things,” Rosenberger said. “But all in all, our state is open for business and really strong, the economy is continuing to move forward in a really good direction.”

Strahorn said in his view, Kasich’s comment was no bombshell. “Actually, I was surprised that the governor made the statement just because it’s not a normal thing to do. But the notion that that could be looming didn’t surprise me even had he not said that. There’s a correlation between – some of this stuff we do to ourselves in terms of the economic investment or the policies,” Strahorn said. “The income tax cuts mirror what the hole looks like it’s shaping up to be in the budget.”

For this two-year session, Republicans gained a seat in the House to bring their total to 66. But Strahorn said his 33-member Democratic caucus will continue to be a vocal minority, and that the working environment he has with Rosenberger won’t change: quoting Strahorn here – “he includes us and lets us have some relevance.” Rosenberger said Republicans will continue to work with the Senate, with Gov. Kasich’s administration and with Strahorn, and specifically mentioned taking up a Democratic dating violence bill that ended up getting shelved at the end of the lame duck session.