In their lame-duck session last week, Republicans in the Ohio legislature made one thing crystal clear: They’ve moved on from Gov. John Kasich.
The legislature overrode Kasich’s vetoes of a pay raise for lawmakers, a gun measure that shifts the burden of proof in self-defense shooting cases and came within one vote of overriding the governor’s veto of the heartbeat abortion bill.
Senate President Larry Obhof promised that the heartbeat bill will return next year when the state’s governor will be Mike DeWine, who has already said he would sign the measure.
There is little question that Kasich, who may announce another presidential run in 2019, is less popular with Ohio Republicans today than when he entered office in 2011. After Kasich vetoed the pay raise bill, State Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, the bill’s sponsor, tweeted. “Too bad he couldn’t support electeds who worked during his 4 years MIA.”
Other major developments in the Statehouse in 2018 included the medical marijuana program’s delayed launch and the speaker scandal, which resulted in the resignation of former speaker Rep. Cliff Rosenberger.
Ohio’s medical marijuana program was supposed to be in full-swing by September 2018, but legal challenges and other delays pushed off the availability of legal medical cannabis, which is due soon.
For much of 2018, Ohio regulators and marijuana business owners have been working to stand up the new industry. Cultivators built grow facilities, won final state approval and planted seeds.
Hundreds of doctors received approval to start recommending marijuana for patients with any of the 21 qualifying conditions. The state Board of Pharmacy launched a patient and caregiver registry system as well as issued dispensary licenses.
North Coast Testing Laboratories in Streetsboro became the first lab to get final certification to test medical marijuana, a key final step toward getting the product in stores.
“We’re right on the cusp,” Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio, told Dayton Daily News reporter Chris Stewart last week. “If not the end of this year, it’s going to be in the first weeks of 2019.”
For a decade, payday lenders legally sidestepped restrictions embraced by lawmakers and voters, charging some of the highest interest rates and fees in the country. Legislators, though, resisted efforts to close the legal loopholes.
In 2018, Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 123 to crack down on payday lenders.
But the action came only after a sustained campaign by local and national advocates, the threat of a statewide ballot issue, intense media coverage, the resignation of then Ohio House speaker Cliff Rosenberger in April and, finally, the spectacle of FBI agents raiding Rosenberger’s home and storage unit in May. The federal investigation is linked to Rosenberger’s travel and relationships with payday lending lobbyists.
Supporters tout House Bill 123, championed by state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, as one of the most important laws adopted in Ohio in 2018. The new law will save Ohio consumers $75 million a year in fees and interest and lead to the shutdown of payday lending store fronts that operate in every corner of the state, according to supporters. Advocates of payday lending say it provides a source of money for people who can’t get it anywhere else, while critics decry the high fees and say it puts borrowers deeper into debt. One in 10 Ohioans take out payday loans.
In May, Ohio voters endorsed a change to how the state draws its congressional district maps, opting for a more transparent and bipartisan system.
The maps, which are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, play a huge role in who represents Ohio. The current system allows the party in control of the process — Republicans for the past few decades — to draw maps to their advantage.
The result: maps with odd-shaped districts that are drawn to maximize the majority-party’s chances of winning the most congressional districts. The GOP holds 12 of Ohio’s 16 seats in Congress.
Facing pressure from a coalition of 30 groups seeking redistricting reform, state lawmakers this year agreed to put a constitutional amendment before voters in May. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.
Here is how the new system will work:
- The General Assembly may approve a 10-year map if a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate agree, along with at least half of the members of the minority and majority parties. It would require the governor’s signature.
- If the legislature fails to adopt a map, the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission would take over. It may pass a 10-year map if it has at least four votes, including two from the minority party.
- If the commission fails to act, the responsibility returns to the legislature, which can pass a 10-year map with a three-fifths majority vote, including one-third of the minority party members. It would require the governor’s signature.
- If the three steps don’t result in a 10-year map, the majority party controlling the legislature may adopt a four-year map, providing it follows guardrails to protect against unduly favoring a political party or incumbents and against splitting up counties into multiple congressional districts.
Driver license amnesty
Starting in January, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who lost their driver licenses will have a chance to reinstate them without paying significant fees and penalties.
The six-month program, which begins today, is designed to help those whose employment opportunities are severely restricted because they can’t afford what it would take to get their license back.
The program is open to those whose licenses were suspended for 25 specific offenses — including operating a vehicle without proof of insurance, juvenile delinquency or truancy, failure to stop for a school bus or after an accident and reckless operation.
It is not available to people whose offense involved alcohol, drug abuse or a deadly weapon.
More than 300,000 Ohioans qualify for the amnesty program.
Suspensions and the reinstatement fees — which range from $15 to $650 per offense — can pile up. In 2017, 1.1 million Ohioans had a suspended driver license — nearly 12 percent of those old enough to drive in the state.
The amnesty applicant must have completed all other court-ordered sanctions and have had the license suspension for at least 18 months. People who are indigent can have their reinstatement fees waived and others can have them reduced under the amnesty law.
Ohio’s child support system received its most sweeping reform in decades this year.
Among the system’s problems is an outdated formula used to calculate payments, $100 million a year in unpaid support and the ease with which non-custodial parents slip into the underground economy to avoid wage garnishments.
The impact of newly-passed legislation on families will vary based on factors such as income, health care coverage, child care arrangements and more.
The reform package will do the following:
- Update economic data used to calculate orders for the first time since 1992 — the new data will allow for calculation of orders for families with combined income of up to $300,000, up from the current $150,000;
- Take into consideration parent contributions for health care coverage and medical expenses;
- Account for shared parenting time;
- Change the minimum order to $80 a month, up from the current $50 a month;
- Allow state workers to update child support formula tables, rather than require lawmakers to approve updates;
- Cap allowable credit given for child care expenses so low-income support payers are limited to sharing half of child care costs; and
- Establish a “self-sufficiency reserve” to make sure low-income parents don’t face child support orders that far exceed their ability to pay.
House Bill 366, the reform package, cleared its final legislative hurdle June 7. The changes will not be applied retroactively.