Big agenda awaits legislators as they return to Columbus

Drug prevention, energy top lawmakers’ priorities.

Opening day ceremonies in the Ohio General Assembly Tuesday were marked with prayers, songs, speeches and pledges to deal with an austere state budget and the drug addiction epidemic gripping the state.

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House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who was re-elected to a second term leading the House, said one of his top priorities is crafting a more coordinated effort to prevent drug abuse and addiction. Although the number of doses of prescription painkillers is declining, fatal drug overdoses hit a record 3,050 in 2015, up 20.5 percent over 2014.

Rosenberger said he wants to see coordinated drug abuse prevention efforts from kindergarten through college and better marketing of existing programs. “This is our burden. This is our challenge,” he said.

Rosenberger also signaled that he wants to make sure Ohio’s renewable energy development is driven by market forces, not government mandates — setting up a potential fight with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who vetoed a measure last month that would have made the state’s renewable energy benchmarks voluntary instead of mandatory.

The speaker also announced that House Bill 1 — a designation often given priority legislation — will be a measure pushed last session by Democrats Emilia Sykes of Akron and Christie Bryant Kuhns of Cincinnati to update Ohio’s domestic violence laws.

Ohio and Georgia are the last two states that don’t offer immediate civil protection orders to people in violent dating relationships, even if they’re not married, not living together or not parenting together. A bill to change that cleared the Ohio House last May but stalled in the Senate in the lame duck session.

The 132nd General Assembly kicked off the new two-year term with 20 new members of the 99-member House and 10 new senators in the 33-member Senate. But two dozen of the 30 “new” members already know the ropes, having previously served in the legislature.

Republican Keith Faber, R-Celina, handed off the Senate presidency to Sen. Larry Obhof, R-Medina, before dashing across the hall to be sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives and take his seat in the back row of the chamber.

Faber is among several veteran politicians switching chambers after hitting term limits. Republicans Jim Hughes of Columbus, Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and Tom Patton of Strongsville all switched from the Senate to the House. Former state representative Matt Huffman, R-Lima, takes over representing Faber’s senate district.

Just one new lawmaker from the Miami Valley joins the Ohio House: Scott Lipps of Franklin, who replaces Ron Maag of Lebanon. Lipps could be identified in the field by his tie, which was decorated with red lips.

The area will soon gain a new senator when someone is appointed to fill a vacancy created when Republican Shannon Jones decided not to seek re-election and instead won a seat on the Warren County Board of Commissioners.

The Senate GOP caucus will appoint Jones’ replacement. The following have applied: Maag, who was term-limited in the House; Lauren Clouse, a lawyer from Mason; Zac Haines, of Symmes Twp., chief executive of Distributor Partners of America; Steve Muterspaw, of Lebanon, director of the non-profit Trinity Debt Management; and Steve Wilson, of Lebanon, a retired bank executive.

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