Dems accuse GOP of backing ‘poll tax’

New voting restrictions part of $7B transportation bill.

The Senate approved the bill 33-0 after a controversial provision to raise the speed limit to 75 miles per hour on some roadways ran into opposition from House members and was dropped. But Democrats raised a new concern this week, saying a provision in the bill amounted to a poll tax that will make it harder for some people to vote.

At issue are requirements for new Ohio residents to get a driver’s license from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles within 30 days of moving to the Buckeye state. Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the language tidies up existing law that requires new residents to get a driver’s license as soon as possible. He noted that 44 states have such time lines.

But state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said it’ll do far more than just that.

“The Senate Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise students by attaching new obligations and conditions — requiring a new driver’s license and new vehicle registration — on their long-settled right to register and vote where they live,” Clyde said. It’ll hit tens of thousands of out-of-state college students, she said.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, brushed aside concerns that the provision would make it harder to vote. “It is irresponsible for anyone to deceive the public into believing it is hard to vote in Ohio. This provision does not add any barriers to casting a ballot in our state. In fact, by requiring a resident to obtain a driver’s license within 30 days of moving to Ohio, it will actually give them an additional form of acceptable identification they can use to register to vote and cast a ballot,” Husted said in a written statement.

Two years ago Republican lawmakers proposed requiring public colleges and universities to grant in-state tuition status to students who received documentation that they could use as voter identification, such as a utility bill or letter from the university. Higher education leaders pushed back and quashed the idea.

Despite pushback on the voting issue, the Republican-controlled House is expected to send the bill to Gov. John Kasich’s office for his signature. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Austintown, said Democrats will ask Kasich to line-item veto the driver’s license provision.

The transportation budget, which spans two years, is funded primarily through gas tax revenues.

The speed limit proposal is dead for now, but could return after more study. In other action:

  • Lawmakers agreed to study the potential cost savings of eliminating Ohio’s front license plate – an issue that gets routinely debated at the Statehouse.
  • Pokey drivers who clog the left, passing lanes will not be required to move over — as some had wanted — but the Ohio Department of Transportation will post more signs directing motorists to keep right on three-lane freeways when they’re not passing.
  • The outright ban on probationary driver’s license holders to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. was lifted to allow exemptions for school and religious events.

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