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Leaders discuss issues

COLUMBUS — Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly spoke with the media last week on issues that could be taken up this season.

Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, and Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman conducted a question and answer session at the Ohio Associated Press 2016 Legislative Preview Session at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus on Thursday.

One topic raised was an increase in a severance tax on natural gas, of which Ohio’s is one of the lowest in the nation, something that was not popular with the panel.

Rosenberg said it was something the House would not take up, and said it would be detrimental to the economy with natural gas prices decreasing.

“It can be be possible, if the market improves,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle, Strahorn agreed, and said it was not the time to raise the tax.

“If the market improves and prices go up, then we can look into this,” he said.

Rosenberg said that the General Assembly should look at having something in place that would benefit the state when the natural gas boom is over, which Schiavoni echoed.

“If we have one, it should focus on local infrastructure and job training,” Schiavoni said, though stating he was also opposed to raising the tax for now.

Faber also opposed a hike in the tax, stating that “it is not a good time,” though he said he could see one being taken up if it were based on a trigger in the marketplace.

An issue that the group took up the idea of deregulating Ohio schools and allowing more decisions at the local level.

“Students get sick worrying about standardized tests,” Schiavoni said. “We need to let teachers be creative and teach. There’s too much regulation on teachers.”

Strahorn agreed, saying that officials have been measuring differing communities with the same standard, and said urban schools, suburban schools and rural schools have different needs.

“We need to find a better way to measure and evaluate,” he said.

Faber touted Senate Bill 3, which he said would address the problem and empower decision makers at the local level by allowing higher performing districts to be exempted from state regulations. He said school boards have always told him that they want more power to determine matters for students.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Measuring with one standard litmus test is unreasonable.”

Strahorn said he hasn’t seen the Senate bill yet, and could not comment on if he supports it.

“I think you’ll like it,” Faber said.

The panel was also asked about Gov. John Kasich’s ongoing presidential campaign and whether it has affected business in the legislature.

Rosenberg said it has not affected things.

“The notion that he’s going to take his finger off the pulse of what is happening here is incorrect,” he said.

Faber said he is happy Kasich is running and supports him.

“He hasn’t stopped leading while running, and continues to be involved,” he said.

Strahorn said, as a Democrat, it hasn’t changed things for him, but noted he has critical differences with the governor in the area of tax and education policy.

“I’m also getting calls from the national press that I didn’t get before,” he said.

Schiavoni said he doesn’t envision anything particularly controversial being taken up while Kasich is a candidate.

“I expect we’ll have light, feel-good bills until the campaign is over,” he said.

A panel earlier in the day, featuring Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Treasurer Josh Mandel and Auditor David Yost discussed the issue of term limits and a proposal by some for a ballot initiative to end the practice of letting Ohio governors serve only two terms.

None on the panel, which included a few prospects for the next gubernatorial race, expected the idea to gain much traction.

Husted said it was doubtful voters would support the idea of politicians staying in office longer.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen in the political environment we’re in,” he said.

Mandel said he supported the current term limits, as did Yost.

DeWine also expressed doubts in such an effort succeeding.

“There’s very little chance any initiative would pass on term limits,” he said.