Beginning next year, millions of Ohioans will be able to register to vote from the convenience of their computer or smart phone after lawmakers on Tuesday put the finishing touches on a bill that authorizes a new online voter registration system.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has pushed for online voter registration for more than five years, said the new system will make voting more secure, harder to cheat and less costly to taxpayers. He added that he is disappointed that the bill includes a delay to January 2017.
The Ohio House voted 90-2 on the bill, which now must return to the Senate for approval of House changes.
Ohio has 7.5 million registered voters and Husted estimates that 400,000 more will register before the November election.
Ohio is lagging behind 31 states and the District of Columbia, which already offer online registration, and six other states have have passed bills to create such systems but have not yet implemented them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some 340,000 Ohioans have used a system implemented by Husted to allow for online change of addresses in voter registration records.
Busy day at the statehouse
The Ohio House and Senate had more than 20 bills teed up for approval on Tuesday. More than 40 more bills are expected to get votes on Wednesday, including a plan to legalize marijuana for medical use. The new version of the pot bill is expected to get Senate approval, followed by House concurrence, said state Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City.
The legislative flurry is part of a mad dash to wrap up work before the General Assembly goes on a lengthy break. Lawmakers aren’t expected to return until after the November election.
Also passing the Ohio House on Tuesday:
Free Beer. House Bill 444: Craft brewers would be allowed to offer up to four free samples of beer, wine or booze to customers 21 or older. The bill, which still needs Senate approval, passed 85-2 in the House.
Bicycles and Cars. House Bill 154: Motorists would be required to give at least three-feet of clearance when passing bicyclists on Ohio roadways. The bill, which passed 78-15, still needs Senate approval.
Sex Abuse Education. House Bill 85: Public schools will be required to provide age-appropriate instruction to K-12 students on child sexual abuse prevention and require training to teachers and other staff on the topic. The bill passed 85-6 but still needs Senate approval.
Township Cops. House Bill 378: Township police officers would be given the authority to make traffic stops on national highways that aren’t part of the interstate system. The bill passed 77-15 and still needs Senate approval.
Domestic Violence. House Bill 362: Strangulation and smothering would be added to the definition of domestic violence and recognized as an offense distinct from assault. Research shows that strangulation victims are seven times more likely to be later killed in domestic violence cases, the bill sponsor said.
Public Pensions. House Bill 284: Public officials convicted of extortion, perjury and federal offenses including theft and bribery, would forfeit their public retirement benefits. The bill passed 88-2 but still needs Senate approval.
Drivers Licenses. Senate Bill 204: Judges would not be required to suspend driver’s licenses for certain drug offenses but would have discretion. The House approved the bill 86-2.
Brandon’s Law. House Bill 110: The Senate voted 23-10 for a House bill that calls for tougher penalties for motorists who leave the scene of an accident when they know that serious physical harm or death may have been caused. The bill also addresses the issue of limited immunity from prosecution for people who call 911 during a drug overdose. Drug users and their friends who call 911 for help would get two free passes from being prosecuted for minor drug possession offenses, contingent on them seeking drug treatment. The matter returns to the House for consideration of Senate changes.
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