Working for government transparency

Published 10:48 am Friday, November 28, 2008

How does state government spend your tax dollars? What property does the state own and are they putting it to its best use? What grants does your community receive from the state and how are they spent?

These are all questions addressed in House Bill 420, a comprehensive measure that was recently approved by the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee.

As the use and sophistication of technology continues to evolve, government has become more efficient and responsive to the public. When I first started working for Congressman Clarence Miller in 1981, I used an electric typewriter and a great deal of Wite-Out to send information to the Congressman and federal agencies. It could take up to 90 days to get any kind of response.

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Now, while legislators may not always give the people the answers they desire, that response time has improved dramatically. I am able to log on to my computer at home and answer e-mails within hours.

The availability of technology has also raised expectations for more openness and transparency in government. HB 420 works to accomplish this goal by establishing a free, searchable Web site with information about state contracts, grants and other government spending in an easily-accessible, readable format. While the state has had its fair share of technology problems over the years, hopefully this new system will be a useful tool for Ohioans to see how their tax dollars are being spent.

HB 420 also tackles several other executive, judicial and legislative matters. For example, the bill creates a home first component to the state’s assisted living program. Individuals, who are eligible for Medicaid, have been admitted to a nursing facility and are on a waiting list for the assisted living program, will be enrolled in the program, if there is a vacancy in a residential care facility and it does not exceed limits for the assisted living waiver. While nursing home care is essential, if a patient is able to participate in assisted living, it saves the state money and gives our seniors a valuable choice in the type of health care they receive.

In addition, HB 420 includes a request from the governor to transfer 15 properties to various local and regional entities. The judicial branch also supported a provision in the bill regarding a judgeship in Portage County, as well as a proposal to make the Hillsboro Municipal Court a full-time court. State Rep. David Daniels and I have been working on legislation to change the status of the Hillsboro court from part-time to full-time and, with the 127th General Assembly nearing completion, we felt that HB 420 was an appropriate vehicle to get this important provision passed.

The Senate Finance Committee also voted to amend the language from Senate Bill 345 into House Bill 420. SB 345, which was the product of input from a number of different interested parties, makes several changes to state rules governing county law libraries.

HB 420 is what lawmakers often refer to as Christmas tree legislation, a bill that is designated as a vehicle for a variety of different provisions that need to pass before the end of the two-year session. While these proposals may not compare to the Christmas tree in your home, they are a useful tool to help the Legislature complete its work.

As we move into the final month of the 127th General Assembly, I will continue to focus on the most urgent matters facing Ohio communities, including the growth of our economy, while also working to pass other bills that will have a positive impact on the future of our region and state.