Controversial sex-ed plan pulled from Ohio state budget bill

Medicaid expansion still on the table.Medicaid expansion could still be revived outside budget process.

Budget highlights

Recently added to the budget bill…

* A 7 percent, across-the-board income tax cut

* $100 million over two years for mental health and addiction services

* $60 million over two years for nursing homes

Out of the budget bill…

* Medicaid expansion, would have provided health care for 275,000 poor Ohioans and saved $404 million in state funds

* Higher taxes on oil and gas extracted from Ohio soil, which would have generated $200 million over two years

* Revisions to sex education standards for public schools

* 50 percent tax cut for small businesses and 20 percent-across-the-board income tax cut

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State lawmakers Thursday scrapped a proposal that would essentially ban comprehensive sex education in Ohio public schools.

In a 76-19 vote, the Ohio House pulled language from the state budget bill that would ban teaching “gateway sexual activity” as defined as sexual contact in Ohio criminal code.

House Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said the issue is something that has struck up a lot of discussion and deserves more talk outside of the budget.

The proposal called for prohibiting, providing or distributing condoms or other contraceptives on school grounds and banning the teaching about “gateway sexual activity.” It used wording from Ohio’s criminal code to define the activity as: “any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.”

In the main event Thursday, the GOP-controlled House passed the budget bill along party lines, 61 to 35. The bill now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers got a head start on the 4,500-page bill this week.

It also became clear Thursday that Republican lawmakers, while not on board with Medicaid expansion, are warming up to the idea.

The Ohio House unanimously approved a proposal that gives themselves some homework: Figure out how to best help Ohioans who earn too much money to qualify for future federal subsidies for medical insurance. The options include changing state law, seeking a waiver from the federal government or a combination of the two by Dec. 31. Republicans proposed the plan and Democrats reluctantly lent their support after failing to restore Medicaid expansion language to the state budget bill.

“We only had six weeks and I don’t think that’s an appropriate amount of time to craft a good solution,” Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said. “This is not now or never — we have time to pass a series of solutions in the fall and there’s no loss of federal money.”

Kasich proposed expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent below poverty, which is about $21,000 a year for a family of four. The move would result in 275,000 poor Ohioans obtaining health coverage, according to the Office of Health Transformation. The federal government would foot the bill for the first three years and then pay 90 percent of the costs, paying $13 billion over seven years.

State officials also estimated the expansion would create $404 million in savings to the state general revenue fund, which also funds law enforcement, education and other services. Republicans opposed the expansion, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, because of its strain on the federal deficit, unease toward the federal government and concerns about the quality of care on Medicaid.

The Medicaid language added Thursday night sets a blueprint for a state-led plan, with a focus on helping people get jobs that take them off the Medicaid rolls and decrease state and federal costs for the program. Ohio Medicaid officials would have to clear any reforms with the federal government before Oct. 1.

Minority Leader Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, said the plan is better than nothing but not much better. Budish said he doesn’t need to study Medicaid further to know Kasich’s proposal is the right thing to do.

“We had the opportunity to do the right thing today, not to just kick the can down the road, not empty promises as this amendment proposes,” Budish said on the floor before the vote. “To give up this opportunity to do something meaningful is not acceptable.”

The approved bill underwent several rounds of revisions by House Republicans, the latest of which included several pet projects and the sex education amendment, which seemed to appear without a groundswell of support.

Medicaid expansion was a key component of Kasich’s ambitious two-year budget plan. The Kasich plan included a 20 percent across-the-board income tax cut and a 50 percent cut for small businesses and pass-through entities. The tax cuts were paid for by expanding a lower sales tax rate to more goods and services and hiking taxes on oil and gas producers.

While Kasich’s tax ideas were dramatically altered, lawmakers kept an income tax cut of 7 percent and most of Kasich’s education funding formula. Lawmakers also kept language added last week that cuts federal funding from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and other family planning clinics and funnels other federal dollars toward crisis pregnancy centers that do not recommend abortive services.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to reallocate the income tax cut to favor middle tax brackets and put more state money toward K-12 education.

“With this budget, the legislature abandons our public schools and therefore abandons our future,” Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, said.

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