Ohio Senate OKs transportation budget.

By Laura Bischoff

The Ohio Senate on Wednesday voted 33-0 in favor of a $7.86 billion transportation budget bill that includes $5.6 billion for highway construction and maintenance projects.

This leaves the state gas tax at 28-cents per gallon — unchanged since July 2005. But fees Ohioans pay for license plates are likely to increase. The legislation allows counties to ask for local voter approval for an additional $5 plate fee to help fund road and bridge projects.

Related: Lawmaker wants to cancel state gas tax in favor of $140 plate fee

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include changes in driver’s license and plate tag fees collected by deputy registrars who run Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices. The bill also allows the BMV to send electronic notices for vehicle registration renewals, if the owner opts for it, and it lets registrars to add self-service kiosks and vending machines in their locations.

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Here are some other policy changes that the bill would achieve:

* Private entities would be allowed to offer motorcycle safety classes for Ohioans seeking a motorcycle operator’s endorsement.

* Ohioans who leave their cars running unattended would not be ticketed if the car is parked on residential property or if it is locked.

* Snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles would be allowed on roadways on the Lake Erie islands between Nov. 1 and April 30.

* Local jurisdictions would get a larger share of state gas tax revenues for road projects.

* The state transportation director would be allowed to change highway speed limits, based on the time of day, road conditions and other factors.

* Re-define what a bridge is so that fewer spans are subject to government inspections. Spans of more than 20 feet would be inspected, instead of 10-feet or more.

County engineers would be required to inspect bridges at least biennially, instead of annually.

This is essentially the third version of the bill — one from the governor, the House and the Senate. The House rejected the Senate changes, so the measure will now go to a conference committee to iron out the differences. A compromise bill is expected next week.

The bill won bipartisan support in the Senate, despite criticism from Democrats that the transportation budget doesn’t invest enough in public transit and it fails to look at ways to apply fees to alternative fuel vehicles that use Ohio roads but pay less or no gasoline tax.

In a separate matter, state Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., is pushing a bill to increase plate tag fees to $140 per year for passenger cars and eliminate the state gasoline tax for vehicles registered in Ohio. It is unclear whether the bill will gain the necessary support to make it into law.

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