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Gambling, budget topped agenda in ‘13

Only 9% of the bills introduced so far have passed this session.

Ohioans can take comfort – or misery – in the fact that brothels are still illegal to operate.

Beer at outdoor motorsports venues is OK to consume if the track operator approves.

And Internet cafes were essentially put out of business in 2013 as Ohio lawmakers tweaked existing laws, wrote new ones and moved to make agencies operate more efficiently and to limit the number of head injuries in youth sports.

All told, Ohio lawmakers passed 59 laws last year.

Only 9 percent of the 600-plus bills introduced in the first year of the 130th General Assembly — which lasts through 2014 — made it to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for a signature.

The state’s main operating budget — detailed in House Bill 59 — was signed into law on June 30. The mammoth piece of legislation outlines how the state plans to spend more than $30 billion in each of the two fiscal years that began on July 1. More than half of that — $15.9 million annually — will be spent on Human Services, including Medicaid.

The Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s analysis of the budget is 699 pages. The spending blueprint and legal document includes high-ticket mentions as well as the obscure entries about brothels and beer.

The bill also points out that one of the state’s eight public children services agencies will be moved from Hamilton County to Butler County.

“This General Assembly has been relatively productive,” said Tom Suddes, a longtime political columnist and adjunct professor of journalism at Ohio University. “The first responsibility of its first year is to pass a state budget on time and they have done that.”

Internet cafes and concussions

Internet cafes got a lot of attention from Ohio politicians in 2013. House Bill 7 prohibits cash prizes of more than $10 in such establishments, and Senate Bill 115 extended a moratorium on sweepstakes activity, essentially putting the parlors out of business.

A law passed last year requiring high school and youth coaches to remove from playing fields athletes who exhibit signs of concussions led to more legislation this year. Senate Bill 26, which took effect in May, exempts coaches and sports organizations from criminal law if they violate concussion protocol.

House Bill 51, sponsored by State Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, authorizes the Ohio Turnpike Commission to issue revenue bonds for infrastructure projects.

Senate Bill 206, the Medicaid reform bill, was passed to limit cost increases in the program. Despite opposition from many members of his own party, the Republican Kasich used the state controlling board to expand Medicaid, a controversial decision that was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, was the main sponsor for the third-grade reading guarantee, which established new benchmarks that must be reached by most students in order to move on to the fourth grade.

State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, sponsored the law known as the Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act, named after the Clark County Sheriff’s deputy killed in the line of duty. It gives law enforcement access to information about suspects with a history of mental illness.

Busy Beagle

State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, was a primary sponsor of five bills that became law — more than any other Ohio lawmaker. One of those laws makes it easier for adopted individuals born between 1964 and 1996 to access their original birth records and another law addresses criminal child enticement.

Beagle, chairman of the Workforce and Economic Development Committee, also sponsored legislation that earmarks casino dollars for a revolving loan fund to aid worker training. Another of his successful bills extends until October 2015 the time that local governments can enter into enterprise zone agreements.

“It’s a great job but more intense than I expected,” said Beagle, who was elected in 2010 and will run for re-election next year. “There’s always interest (in pending legislation) and people will call you from all four corners of the state.”

Beagle is watching to see if the legislative pace picks up in 2014, now that the heavy lifting of crafting a budget is complete. Nearly 20 percent of bills introduced in the 2011-12 session became law.

“It’ll be interesting to see if we make that 20 percent (passage rate of the 129th General Assembly), given that it’s an election year,” he said.

Of the 52 lawmakers listed as primary sponsors on bills that became law, 43 were Republicans, who control both chambers. The nine Democrats all were co-sponsors with a Republican.

“The majority makes the decisions on legislation, but we didn’t use to have (co-sponsors) at all, so that’s a sign of some kind of inclusiveness, which is a plus,” Suddes said.

Ohio’s state artifact

Not all new laws deal with high-profile issues. House Bill 141 combined the municipal courts in Tiffin and Fostoria. Another new law makes Sept. 10 “Ohio Suicide Prevention Day” and the first week of October “Ohio Forest Products Awareness Week.”

Senate Bill 137 requires drivers to proceed with caution and change lanes if possible upon approaching a parked highway maintenance vehicle.

House Bill 12 allows “certain automatically operated low-pressure steam boilers, power boilers, and stationary steam engines to be operated without the presence of a person licensed under the Boiler Law.”

As part of House Bill 34, the state treasurer is required to transfer $19.1 million in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 from the State Insurance Fund to the Safety and Hygiene Fund.

One of the 12 new laws signed by Kasich on Dec. 19 revises laws governing the practice of psychology.

Ohio also gained an official state artifact in 2013 when the Adena Effigy Pipe was designated as such by HB 501. According to the Ohio Historical Society, the American Indian artifact was discovered in 1901 on the Chillicothe estate of Thomas Worthington, Ohio’s sixth governor.

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