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Variety of issues swirling at statehouse

The Ohio House and Senate considered a number of big issues over the past few weeks, some of which led to changes in Ohio law, while others were set aside to be discussed another day.

I would like to talk about three of these issues in particular — casino gaming, Governor Strickland’s decision to provide a one-time bonus to Ohio welfare recipients and the advice and consent hearings in the Senate for the director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety — which were all the subject of tremendous debate on both sides of the aisle.

In the legislative process, compromise is necessary, and many times, lawmakers are not completely satisfied with the results.

This was the case with the legislature’s work on a bill to regulate casino gambling in the state.

Last November, Ohio voters approved State Issue 3, which authorized the construction of four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.

As a result, the legislature was constitutionally-obligated to develop rules governing how these facilities are operated.

My goal, and that of a majority of my Senate colleagues, was to pass a casino implementation bill that provided appropriate oversight of gambling in the state and honored the wishes of Ohio voters, but did not overreach.

There were, however, some members of the General Assembly who wanted to add language legalizing skilled gaming machines and gambling in other venues across the state.

Further, Issue 3 requires that each casino pay a $50 million license fee to be spent on workforce development.

I did not want to obligate these dollars until next year or when the money is received. But, the Democratic majority in the House wanted to allocate all the license fees now to a number of existing development programs and include guarantees in the casino implementation language for minority hiring by private businesses beyond what is required under current law.

On June 3, during a marathon session that lasted into the middle of the night, the House and Senate reached agreement on casino implementation legislation—House Bill 519.

The final product was not perfect, but it stuck to the basics regarding rules and regulations for the four casinos.

In addition, the Senate agreed to pledge half of the total $200 million in projected license fees for co-ops and internships, as well as workforce development programs in both rural and urban areas.

Unfortunately, unlike the hours that Democrats and Republicans spent ironing out a compromise on the casino bill, some big decisions in Columbus are made unilaterally.

On May 21, Governor Strickland issued an executive order, without input from the legislature or even an accompanying press release, authorizing a one-time, $100 bonus for June to Ohio families receiving cash assistance through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Days later, the Democratic majority on the state Controlling Board approved the Governor’s plan, which will be paid for with $8.4 million in federal stimulus money and $2 million in unspent state funds at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

I voted no on the request. I would have preferred that the administration instead provide assistance to help Ohioans secure jobs and avoid welfare, and I found it objectionable that the governor issued this edict with no prior notice or hearing. It also seemed curious that this was done during an election year.

Finally, I had the unpleasant and difficult task of serving on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee during the recent advice and consent hearings for Governor Strickland’s appointment of Cathy Collins-Taylor as Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Ms. Collins-Taylor had an admirable record during her career in law enforcement, but she was found in a report by Ohio’s Inspector General to have lied about her role in a cancelled sting at the Governor’s residence in Bexley, a Columbus suburb.

Specifically, the IG‘s report concluded that Ms. Collins-Taylor made the decision to call off a plan by the Ohio Highway Patrol to intercept a woman thought to be delivering drugs to an inmate working at the governor’s mansion in part to avoid political embarrassment to the governor. Then she was not truthful about her decision during sworn interviews with investigators.

For me, the problem was not so much in the details of the cancelled sting but Ms. Collins-Taylor’s actions in punishing those who did not agree with her version of the facts.

In the days leading up to the Senate hearings, Ms. Collins Taylor and her staff waged a public relations campaign in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the non-partisan Inspector General.

In addition, she retained an employee who allegedly tried to convince a co-worker to participate in a scheme designed to trap the Inspector General into breaking the law. I voted not to advice and consent on Ms. Collins-Taylor’s appointment because of these factors.

Many issues in the Legislature are clear cut, but the above clearly demonstrate major differences of opinion, and I wanted to give you my perspective on why I made the decisions I made on your behalf. I will continue to vote on issues with the best interest of our region and the future of our state in mind.

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.