Whatever happened to Ohio’s ‘one-subject’ rule?

If there’s anything in the world more elastic than Silly Putty, it’s the Ohio Constitution’s “one-subject” rule. The rule aims to prevent logrolling – when the General Assembly passes bills based on the Statehouse’s Golden Rule: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

One brazen example, noted here before because of its pro-fracking features, is Substitute House Bill 463, which legislators rocketed to Gov. John R. Kasich’s desk on Dec. 8. He signed the bill Jan. 4.

As introduced last February, HB 463 dealt with foreclosures. But when the bill emerged from the state Senate’s sausage factory, HB 463 also: Weakened Ohio’s civil rights law as it pertains to open housing cases; addressed the Uniform Commercial Code; tweaked community reinvestment area tax exemptions; required health plans to cover autism spectrum disorder; allowed expense reimbursement for members of regional Child Abuse and Child Neglect Prevention Councils; and – as previously detailed – stymied Ohioans who oppose fracking and seek to block it through county home-rule charters.

“Logrolling,” according to Messrs. Merriam and Webster, is “the trading of votes by legislators to secure favorable action on projects of interest to each one.” That is, a bill that might not pass on its own is yoked to something that will. That may be good for Ohio legislators and their contributors, but it’s not good for taxpayers. So, to stymie logrolling, the Ohio Constitution says “no bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.”

True, 20-year House Speaker Vernal G. Riffe, a Portsmouth-area Democrat, was known to say that all bills followed the one-subject rule because, ultimately, every bill deals with state government. Still, compared to some pf today’s Statehouse antics, Vern Riffe’s era almost seems tame. So, until a ticked-off plaintiff turns up, the mattress-tag law seems better enforced than Ohio’s one-subject rule.

Federal follies: Congressional Republicans, in talking up proposed “replacement” of the Affordable Care Act, must like Humpty Dumpty’s maxim: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” Good example: The claim that an ACA replacement, assuming Republicans fashion one, will guarantee “access” to health care. But “access” isn’t the same thing as guaranteeing “coverage.” Then there’s the high-risk-pool theory. The idea is that someone – likely, states – would create insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions. Insuring them separately could, supposedly, hold down other people’s premiums.

Before the Affordable Care Act, 35 states (but not Ohio) created health insurance high-risk pools. The pools capped premiums at from 125 percent to 250 percent of standard rates. Problem One, according to data compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, is that the pools collectively lost money. In 2011, they took in $1.39 billion in premiums but had $2.64 billion in expenses. Net loss for the year: $1.24 billion (“or $5,510 per enrollee, on average,” Kaiser found) to insure a total of 226,615 people (as of Dec. 31, 2011).

Who covered that $1.24 billion loss? Probably you, Mr. or Ms. Taxpayer. That’s Problem Two: Kaiser found “most states financed net losses through an assessment on private non-group health insurance premiums; however, nearly all state high-risk pool assessments were offset by tax credits so that, in effect, general state revenue funding applied.”

Last year, in proposing an ACA replacement, U.S. House Republicans suggested forming high-risk pools in every state and collectively giving them annual federal subsidies of $2.5 billion for 10 years. That looks like doubling down on something that doesn’t really work. But when a pol prefers packaging to content, why not?

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