A new dynamic for state Legislature

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In a newspaper article this past week, the issue was raised: Is “less is more” when it comes to state government, or should the Legislature be passing more bills?

It is true that not many bills, other than the state operating budget, have been sent to the Governor for his signature this year.

However, this does not mean that legislation is not being introduced, debated and passed by the House or Senate. Several proposals have been approved in one chamber but have not made it through the full General Assembly.

Email newsletter signup

While the state budget did consume much of the Legislature’s time this past spring, there are other probable reasons for the low number of bills being enacted into law.

First, the General Assembly has a large contingent of first term legislators. Their lack of experience is not necessarily holding them back from passing more bills, but it takes time to win support for legislation.

When I was first elected, it took me up to two or three sessions to get some legislation passed. It is not unusual to advocate for a bill over many years before it wins support.

In addition, with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democrat-controlled House, there are primary philosophical differences that must be considered. Republicans are generally for less government intervention, which was illustrated in March, when my colleagues and I targeted regulatory reform as one of our priority bills in an effort to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic steps that businesses must take to operate in Ohio.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to be for more government intervention, as was evident when the House approved a bill earlier this year to place a moratorium on home foreclosures.

While members have their disagreements, the General Assembly does not have the contentious atmosphere that we see from Congress in Washington.

Government is not meant to move quickly, and in most cases, it doesn’t. It is why our constitution includes so many checks and balances on the different branches of government. The idea is that all sides must work together to achieve consensus.

Because it is difficult to get a bill through both the House and Senate, more and more bills nowadays are being inserted into the state budget as a way to expedite the legislative process. I try, as chair of the Senate Finance & Financial Institutions Committee, to limit this practice, but it is a battle with mixed results at best.

In April, I introduced Senate Bill 101 to address the impact of Ohio’s declining honeybee population on our agriculture industry.

I knew I probably could have very easily amended the proposal into the budget, but I wanted to set a good example.

In the end, however, the House chose to put it in the budget anyways. While I appreciate my colleagues’ support of the proposal, in an ideal world, each bill would go through the legislative process on its own.

The budget was also amended to include all or part of bills to regulate the distribution of gasoline cards as prizes; make changes to the minority business bonding program; extend a moratorium on new rules for septic systems; place guidelines on the use of federal stimulus funds; give the Superintendent of Financial Institutions within the Department of Commerce greater flexibility to perform certain administrative duties related to mortgage loan licenses; and establish tax credits for film production in Ohio.

All of these were or could have been separate bills, but were included in the budget, because proponents knew it had to be signed into law. The Legislature and the Governor are constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget.

There were other bills which made it into either the House or Senate versions of the budget but were ultimately removed during conference committee or vetoed by the Governor in the final draft.

These include a mandate that insurance companies cover autism, the creation of a hemophilia advisory council and regulatory reform for small businesses. All of these proposals, however, live to see another day.

While there are philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, I believe both parties have a common goal to prioritize primary and secondary education, strengthen our state’s higher education system and create jobs in our local communities.

A better Ohio is something we will all strive to attain as we continue the policy debate in Columbus.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.