Ohio in 2017: State budget, abortion, online schools among top issues

Ohio Statehouse
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Ohio Statehouse

The Ohio General Assembly will return to Columbus Tuesday for its opening ceremonies to kick off a fresh, two-year legislative session and there will be no shortage of weighty issues to tackle.

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Here is a look at five key items coming up soon:

1. State Budget. Ohio Gov. John Kasich will introduce his two-year state budget plan at the end of January, giving lawmakers less than six months to adopt a final spending plan by June 30. The budget pays for prisons, Medicaid, mental health and public health services, education from preschool to college, and more. It's big money. The current two-year operating budget runs just more than $71 billion.

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2. Unemployment Compensation Fund. The state fund used to pay jobless benefits has been in big trouble for years as the taxes paid by employers aren't enough to keep up with benefits paid out. Some 200,000 Ohio workers rely on the system in a given year. Business, labor and political leaders failed to fix it in 2016 but promised to work out a plan by April 1.

3. Abortion. Lawmakers passed a bill that would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks gestation. Kasich vetoed that bill but signed another measure that bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Anti-abortion legislators could approve the so-called heartbeat bill again and override Kasich's veto this year.

ExploreRELATED: Kasich vetoes Heartbeat bill, signs 20-week abortion ban

4. Clean energy. Late last year, Kasich vetoed a bill that would have made clean energy and conservation benchmarks for utilities voluntary goals rather than mandates. Lawmakers who prefer that the free market drive what companies do may push the issue again this session.

5. Online schools. ECOT, the state's largest online charter school, is battling the Ohio Department of Education's efforts to force the company to pay back more than $60 million in state funding, saying it grossly inflated student attendance numbers. The move comes after the state started requiring documentation from online schools showing that students are getting the required 920 hours of instruction each year. Lawmakers may take up the issue of how e-schools are funded and held accountable.

There are plenty of other big ideas that got left on the cutting room floor in December when lawmakers ended the two-year session.

The Klonda Richey Act, which was named after the Dayton woman mauled to death by her neighbor's two dogs in February 2014, cleared the Senate but ran out of time to win House approval. State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, said he will re-introduce the bill this session.

And 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. State Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, plans to push the issue again.

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