COLUMBUS, OH - If this were any other second year of a General Assembly, lawmakers may have already left Columbus behind for their summer break.
These summer months are typically used be members of the State House of Representatives to campaign ahead of the election in the fall.
But this year lawmakers may be here at the Statehouse deep into June perhaps even early July thanks to a vacancy of the Speaker of the House position and a rift in the Republican party over who should fill that role.
Last year, lawmakers left late for summer break to finalize and hammer out the details of the State Operating Budget.
This year, they will be working on legislation again, only this time it will be to pass a back log of bills that has been piling up since the beginning of the General Assembly.
When the House gets together for session the agenda for the meeting has a demarcation on it lawmakers call “the black line.”
This thick black line separates what is being heard on the floor during that particular session from the other bills that are awaiting their third consideration.
The bills below the black line have passed out of their perspective committees and are simply waiting to be brought to the floor so that lawmakers can vote to pass them through the chambers and either onto the Senate (in the case of a House bill or a Senate bill that was changed by the House committee) or to the Governor’s desk.
Back in April, before former Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned suddenly, there were 81 bills below the black line.
Most of those bills dealt with memorializing sections of highways, creating license plates, or establishing a day or month in honor of someone or something.
Some of the bills were left over duplicates of a bill from the other chamber that made it through the legislative process and ended up going to the governor’s desk before its companion bill could. These kinds of bills can be somewhat stripped and re-tooled if necessary to be used as a vessel for other legislation if needed.
Then there are the bills that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Because the committees are run by their chairmen, bills are typically heard in an order they set by an individual who may or may not agree with the rest of the majority party in ideology.
Some bills that could be too controversial could make it through the committee process but then languish below the black line for any number of political reasons, optics and timing not the least of which.
Finally, there are the few bills that just arrived late to the party. For whatever reason their progress through the committee process may have been held up or needed to be negotiated more than others and they happened to finally pass through only to be caught in the current quagmire of political posturing that is currently happening.
Some of the bills waiting to be voted on would impact the lives of Ohioans greatly, there is no doubt. But the majority of the bills waiting to for a vote may not.
There are several other bills not yet at this point in their legislative journey that some argue would be even more important to Ohioans, but will soon be set aside so lawmakers can get their summer break in, like Tyler’s Law, which still needs more hearings in the House Agriculture Committee. This bill was the result of the tragedy at last year’s Ohio State Fair where an amusement park ride broke in mid operation killing one and injuring several others.
The bill makes changes to safety standards for these types of rides in Ohio, but because it didn’t get introduced until a few weeks ago, there is little likelihood lawmakers will get anywhere close to getting it passed and into law before this summer.
As such, while lawmakers go on summer break and Ohioans are subjected to these amusement rides, the same standards will be in place that allowed for last year’s tragedy.
There is no need for a Speaker of the House to be seated to be getting work done on this or any other piece of legislation. All that is required is a chairman to schedule hearings, which they are free to do as they please.
The Speaker’s position is important for several reasons, and as we have pointed out before control of campaign finances is one of them.
So this Wednesday, if it takes several hours to determine a new Speaker of the House because the Republicans refuse to come to a consensus on a single nominee, that is what is holding up the passage of bills from one chamber to the next or to the governor’s desk.
Either way, nearly two months of waiting for bills to receive their floor votes is almost over. One way or another, Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring has promised a new Speaker will be chosen this week and things can get back to “normal.”