Lame duck legislature quacking loudly

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The General Assembly recently wrapped up a busy lame duck session, highlighted by long hours, spirited debate and the passage of several important bills.

Unfortunately, three of these bills, which I supported, are headed for Governor Strickland’s veto pen. Senate Bill 380 is designed to further secure and strengthen our elections process.

The bill would abolish the so-called “Golden Week”—a five-day overlap between the start of early voting and the voter registration deadline, which allowed unregistered voters to register and cast an absentee ballot in the same day—by shortening the in-person absentee voting period to 20 days before the election.

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Absentee voting by mail would begin 28 days before the election.

In addition, SB 380 would mandate that voters complete all five fields on their absentee ballot identification envelopes for their vote to count, allow bipartisan observers during the in-person absentee voting period and require the Secretary of State to share mismatches in her office’s voter registration database with local boards of election.

The law also includes a provision that says the Secretary of State must have just cause to remove a county board of elections member.

In recent months, many local elections officials have feared for their jobs, after it appeared that the Secretary removed board members simply for disagreeing with her ideas.

The Governor has also said that he plans to veto House Bill 649, which would fund bonuses for Ohio veterans who served our nation during conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as House Bill 196, which would provide tax credits for movies that are filmed in Ohio, in an effort to attract jobs and economic growth to the state.

The Legislature also worked during the lame duck session to address concerns over a disturbing situation at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, in which former director, Helen Jones Kelley, improperly authorized agency employees to search the personal information of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. “Joe the Plumber.”

Ms. Kelley claimed that it was her department’s practice to “take a quick look” at people thrust into the public spotlight.

After news of the incident broke, I had constituents who did not want their picture with me to appear in the local paper for fear that this association would prompt a state agency bureaucrat to access their personal information.

In response, the House and Senate passed House Bill 648 on Dec. 17, which seeks to punish those who abuse the public trust by accessing Ohioans’ records beyond the normal authority of state government. Governor Strickland, who recently accepted the resignation of Ms. Kelley and disciplined other ODJFS employees, is expected to sign HB 648 into law.

Another bill that received considerable debate in the General Assembly’s final days was House Bill 320, legislation that would require parents to secure all children who are between 4-8 years old and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall, in a booster seat while riding in a car.

I opposed the bill, because I believe that parents—not the government—should make the decision whether or not to put a child in a booster seat. Similarly, there is no state law against children riding in the front seat of a car, yet most parents have learned that it is safer to put their kids in the back seat.

While I understand and respect those who supported the bill, I fundamentally disagree with the premise of government knows best. The bill ultimately passed the Senate 27-5 and was sent to the Governor for his signature.