Summer vacation will just have to wait

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Last week I ended my column by writing, “…if all goes well we will be able to complete work on most of the important pieces of pending legislation before leaving Columbus for our summer break.”

All did not go well.

Gongwer News Service put it aptly in its May 29 report when it stated, “With one $1.3 billion exception, the General Assembly Thursday closed the books on the bulk of its formal work until after the November election…” The $1.3 billion refers to the total value of the projects funded in the budget corrections/capital bill, HB 562.

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Though Senators and Representatives agreed on almost everything, they did not agree on at least one item that was significant enough to require additional work in Columbus. Meetings will most likely take place the week of June 2 in a conference committee. The Senate and House will each appoint two Republicans and one Democrat member to serve on this committee. Hopefully members will be able to work out a compromise before our next scheduled voting session June 10.

I believe one of the items of difference involves a proposal to allow county commissioners in Cuyahoga County where Cleveland is located to change their form of government. As I understand it, a House amendment to the budget corrections/capital bill would have given two county commissioners in a county of at least 1.2 million people the ability to allow voters to convert some currently elected offices to appointed offices. The affected offices would include the treasurer, auditor and engineer.

Voters elect someone to serve in these offices now. Under the proposal the county commissioners would decide who would fill these positions.

There was a lot of speculation about the purpose of this amendment, and that was part of the problem. This issue has not been discussed in any committees in the House or Senate, so there has been no debate on the merits of the proposal. It was simply added to the House version of the bill.

This amendment is an example of an effort to fast track an issue and bypass the legislative process by attaching language to another bill that is ready to pass. This tactic is seen most often at the end of a legislative session or just before a prolonged break from voting sessions in Columbus, like the summer break we are ready to start.

Other policy issues were added to the budget corrections/capital bill, but they were discussed in committee hearings as part of other pieces of legislation. Their inclusion in this bill was more a matter of convenience rather than an effort to circumvent the process.

Senators removed another local government reform initiative that had been discussed in the House, but had attracted significant opposition and had not been considered in the Senate. The proposal would have created a local government collaboration and reform commission. We believe the proposal has merit, but needs more discussion.

Our summer schedule will have to wait until conferees iron out the last remaining differences on this pending legislation.

Senator Tom Niehaus can be reached at 614-466-8082, e-mail him at, or write to him at the Ohio Senate, Room 220, Statehouse, Columbus, OH 43215. Please include your home telephone number and address.