Ohio statehouse

Ohio lawmakers take on minimum wage, pet store regulations

Ohio lawmakers rolled together restrictions on minimum wage rates, pet stores, bestiality, cockfighting and high-speed cell phone technology into one convoluted, controversial bill and passed it out of the House on Wednesday during the lame duck session.

Senate Bill 331, also known as the “Petland Bill,” started out as an effort to block local government from regulating where pet stores can buy puppies. (Grove City — outside of Columbus — and Toledo have such local restrictions.) The bill turned out to be unpopular with animal welfare advocates and city leaders who favor local control.

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Then this week in committee, House members folded into SB331 two items popular with animal rights groups: restrictions on cockfighting and bearbaiting and an explicit ban on sexual contact with animals. (Ohio is one of a handful of states where bestiality isn’t specifically prohibited by law.)

Also attached to the bill is a ban on local governments setting minimum wage rates different than the state rate. Cleveland residents are scheduled to vote in May on whether to phase in a $15 an hour local minimum wage. And lawmakers added regulations on the construction and attachment of micro wireless equipment in city public right of ways, which they say will lead to quicker deployment of 5G cell phone technology statewide.

Also tossed in is language that grants private employers exclusive authority to set their workers’ schedules, fringe benefits and location — a hedge against any efforts to curb the use of flexible scheduling practices that are popular in the retail and restaurant industries.

State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, said businesses want uniform regulations — whether they’re running pet store chains, wireless telecom companies, or outlets that pay minimum wage or use flexible scheduling.

“This is really about keeping Ohio business friendly,” Smith said.

The House voted 55-40 in favor of the amended bill, after a 45 minute debate. The bill returns to the Senate for agreement on the changes.

Some highlights from today:

* Minimum wage: The Ohio House has approved a bill that would prohibit local municipalities from setting minimum wages higher than the state level.

Republican backers say a patchwork of minimum wage laws would create an uncertain business environment that could hurt current companies and drive those considering Ohio to look at other states.

Democratic opponents say local communities should be allowed to set minimum wages above Ohio’s current level of $8.10 to help workers.

The bill was included in legislation overriding local ordinances that regulate pet stores, requiring them to purchase animals from shelters and rescue groups as opposed to buying them from high-volume breeders, which critics say are often puppy mills that treat animals poorly.

The legislation also includes bans on bestiality and a crackdown on cockfighting and “bearbaiting.”

* Abortion: The 20-week ban would be added to legislation already on its way to Republican Gov. John Kasich that would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

House lawmakers heard testimony about the 20-week ban Wednesday morning with a scheduled committee vote in the afternoon and a goal to put it on the House floor later in the day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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