Ohio House Republicans on Tuesday announced they’re ditching Gov. John Kasich’s plans for tax reforms in the state budget bill and said they’re pouring an extra $170.6 million into fighting the opiate addiction crisis.
The governor called for income tax cuts and hikes in taxes on tobacco, vaping, sales and oil and gas extraction. The House GOP said no. In the latest version of the two-year state budget plan, the only tax reform is a call to collapse Ohio’s income tax brackets from nine to seven and phase in a change in how agricultural property is valued.
They also eliminated the governor’s ideas of requiring teachers to serve internships, put business leaders on local school boards, and require colleges and universities to provide textbooks for students.
The new version of the bill will expand gambling at horse racing tracks, allowing them to offer video poker games and it trims back the percentage of revenue the racinos get from video lottery games to 65.5 percent from 66.5 percent. The bill also expressly prohibits using credit cards to purchase Ohio Lottery tickets.
The Ohio House will hear testimony on the new version this week, make more amendments Monday and the hold a floor vote next week.
Even then, the bill is far from a finished product. It will be changed by the Ohio Senate and likely revamped again in a House-Senate conference committee before final adoption comes in June. Kasich also has a line-item veto power to strike out parts he doesn’t like in the two-year plan to spend $133 billion in state and federal money.
Here are the details on the latest version from the Ohio House:
Opiate addiction crisis
As Ohio leads the nation in accidental drug overdoses, state leaders are reaching for multiple fixes. The House budget plan carves out $170.6 million, including $12.2 million for prevention and education, $130 million for treatment options, $19.4 million for mental health supports, and $9 million for job training. Money is also earmarked to develop a smartphone app that will help guide addicts or their family members to treatment and recovery options.
“I realize this is one step in the process. This conversation is going to continue for a long time,”said House Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell.
The program includes mandating that insurance companies cover tele-medicine for mental health services so that patients in under-served areas have access to counseling, establishing ‘mental health’ courts similar to drug courts, allocating more money to child protective services and kinship care to help kids who lose parents to drug addiction, spending $20 million to build new treatment facilities and allocating $9 million for regional detox centers.
Related: 2016 deadliest year for overdoses
Despite investing almost $1 billion a year to fight drug abuse and addiction — much of it through expanded Medicaid — accidental overdoses in Ohio claimed 3,050 lives in Ohio in 2015, up 20.5 percent over 2014.
Lawmakers are also seeking to require driver’s education classes include instruction on drug abuse, the science of addiction and the effect of psychoactive substances while driving.
The House plan keeps funding for higher education flat and allows for a slight increase for K-12. And it would allow community colleges to offer “applied bachelor’s” degrees if the same degree isn’t offered by another school within 30 miles. The new version of the budget also earmarks $750,000 for the University of Dayton Research Institute in fiscal year 2018.
Lawmakers are also seeking to reduce the mandated number of sick days university employees get to 10 from 15 and require universities to do post-tenure reviews of its faculty. The House also wants to authorize Ohio State University to enter into a controversial energy supply and management agreement.
The budget bill would give colleges and universities leeway to increase tuition and fees for incoming students. OSU President Michael Drake, in an appearance in Washington, D.C., said “Everybody’s tuition at some point in time is more likely to go up than not. But we haven’t made a decision at this time.”
Drake added, “Our tuition’s been flat for the past five years and that of course is unsustainable. You can’t do that forever because there are … inflationary pressures. So we’ve been working with our trustees and with the legislature to look at effective ways to balance access, affordability, and excellence and all three of those are parts of our deliberative process.”
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would get the go-ahead to sell off prison farm land. And funding for indigent defense — lawyers for defendants who are too poor to hire their own — would be increased by $15 million over two years. Inmates who complete their high school diploma or GED while locked up would be eligible to be released 90 days early.
And legislators want to make it easier and more fair for people to seek compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned. Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said the proposed changes would remove procedural bars and clear the way for more innocent claimants to be compensated.
Related: List of wrongful convictions growing
House Republicans are proposing a fundamental change to how farmland is valued and taxed. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said farmland values have been spiking but farm income has dropped. The current system uses land use, production costs and market value to calculate how much the land is worth. The proposal is to drop market value from the equation and phase in the change over six years.
Odds & Ends
— Some state regulatory boards that serve similar industries, such as the barber and cosmetology boards, will be merged.
— Liquor permit holders would be allowed to make and sell ice cream that is up to 6 percent alcohol by volume.
— Fees for birth, death and divorce records would be hiked by $3 to help fund the Ohio Children’s Trust.
— The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, an advocate for residential utility rate payers, would get its call center back.
— Advertising purchases of more than $50,000 would be required to receive Controlling Board approval.
Washington D.C. bureau reporter Jack Torry contributed to this report.
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