After a slight delay at the beginning of the day, lawmakers were off to the races plowing through several bills up for third consideration on the House floor with easy unanimous votes.
Then they hit their first slow down, the payday lending reform bill HB 123. State Representatives Kyle Koehler and Michael Ashford jointly sponsored the bill.
The dissent on the bill was not over party lines, as is usually the case when there is opposition in the House Chamber.
This time the rift was within the Republican caucus of the House. After several lawmakers were afforded an opportunity to express why they supported or opposed the bill, some quite passionately, the vote was held.
Ultimately, 69 members voted for the bill, 14 voted against it, and another 15 simply did not vote at all. Some of those 15 non-voting members were absent from all of Thursday’s session, but not all.
Some of the dissenting 14 lawmakers are often described as leaning toward being the most conservative republicans in the chamber.
The divisive bill now heads to the Senate as introduced where it is likely to be amended. Koehler says, he knows that is a good possibility and wants to work with lawmakers in the opposite chamber to make sure the bill gets done before the end of the year.
Because summer break is practically upon lawmakers, there are questions over how much work will be done on the bill while they are taking their vacations and campaigning for the election this fall.
However, Koehler has committed himself to the cause and trusts the President of the Senate Larry Obhof meant it when he told him the bill would be dealt with swiftly.
Back in the Representatives Hall, lawmakers were once again flying through legislation.
Most of the bills being heard were slam dunks, with little to no opposition.
Once they finished up the 15 bills they voted on two resolutions and began to vote to concur with the Senate which has sent 11 original House Bills back to the chamber with changes.
All of the concurrent votes passed as well.
One item did come back from the Senate that rejected changes the House made to the bill, so that bill was set to be sent to a conference committee to work out the details over the disagreement.
In all, lawmakers spent just about 3 hours dealing with legislation on the first voting day in nearly two months and some of them considered that a pretty good day, applauding at the end of it.
Afterward, newly established Speaker of the House Ryan Smith met with reporters as is tradition.
When asked why he cancelled both of the if-needed sessions next week, he said they needed time to inventory things.
“I think we’re just trying to take a deep breath and get some inventory on where we’re at; give us a little bit of runway from here to the end of the month so that we can get some things done that are in the hopper,” said Smith.
At the same time they are inventorying the situation, Smith says he expects lawmakers may not be going full out in committee hearings next week either.
“I’m going to work with the committee chairs to see where they’re at, if they feel like they need to do that. I’m not sure. It’ll probably be a light schedule if any,” said Smith.
So, a week after telling the media that they have a lot of important work to do and that they needed to not waste any more time and hold the vote for a new speaker right away so they can get back to work, things are slowing down almost immediately so they can take stock of what important things they need to get done.
At the very least, Smith has committed to two more session days in June on the 20th and 27th.
There is a chance that more sessions could be called after that, but nothing has officially been decided.
The expectation is that lawmakers will go on their Summer Break after the 27th and not return for more than 4 months because summer in politics extends until after the November elections.
“We haven’t looked at the second half calendar yet, but I don’t typically think that we would have a reason to be back, but if there’s a reason we’ll certainly come back,” said Smith.
Lawmakers need July and August to spend time with their families and take vacations, like the rest of us.
But they also need September and October to campaign so they can keep their seat at the Statehouse.
This is nothing new. Lawmakers have been operating on this kind of schedule for years.
Most citizens either don’t know or don’t care, and some even rationalize it away because our lawmakers are part-timers as it is; part-timers that bring in $60,000 a year, but that’s another story altogether.
So, with two more days like today ahead of them before summer break, just how much could they get done and how much is needed to be done?
Let’s start with the latter. There are 141 items below the “black line”. The black line as we have explained before is a demarcation on the House Calendar that separates the bills being considered that session from all of the other bills that have ever been passed by the House Committees and that are now waiting for a vote on the House floor by the representatives.
Not all of those 141 items are going to be voted on. Several of them are leftover from when their companion bill, a bill that is identical, successfully completed the legislative process before it.
In those cases, these bills sit and wait to be used as empty vessels for bills in the lame duck session between the November Election and the end of the year when the General Assembly comes to a close. That is when they could be used to pass legislation quickly and in some cases without having to hold all the normal public meetings a bill would go through by turning the bill in question into an amendment to the now empty vessel bill.
Other bills below the black line are what legislators have described as bills with little legislative significance. They do not create new regulations, or laws, or impact people’s lives on a significant level. These bills are mostly commemorative days and months, or license plates, or memorial highways.
Then there are the bills that may be controversial or do not have wide support in the majority party.
Because some of the bills below the black line were attached as amendments to the Operating Budget last June, it can be difficult to delineate exactly how many significant pieces of legislation are actually waiting to be heard and how much is just clutter that will never move because it doesn’t need to.
There are some though where that is clearly not the case, the Reagan Tokes Act waits below the black line; as does a bill that would make changes to Cosmetology here in Ohio and another that is considered a Stand your Ground bill. There are others.
The vast majority of the bills, however, are your license plates or your commemorative days/months, and memorial highways. Most of the Democrat only primary sponsored bills fall into this category and only a few bills that are jointly sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat fall outside this group yet wait below the black line.
There are some solo Republican primary sponsor bills that do not create a license plate, name a day, month, or highways. They are not immune to the backlog that has accumulated over the first 18 months of the General Assembly.
In any case, even if they wanted to clear out everything they could below the black line they would be sending it to the Senate for them to deal with.
A good majority of the bills are light-weight and non-controversial, as such they could move rather quickly but that’s not likely to happen until November; especially if the Senate decides to go on summer break and leave the House to catch up through the end of the month.
And keep in mind we’re just talking about lawmakers catching up on stuff that has already passed out of committee.
With Smith saying, next week may be a light week in committee, some wonder how much work is going to be put in to Tyler’s Law which is meant to increase safety of amusement rides after the tragedy at the Ohio State Fair last year.
It is already clear that the bill is not likely to make it to the Governor’s desk before the summer and fair season starts, but one has to wonder how much weight lawmakers are giving the legislation if it is not a priority in general.
With all of the bills still trying to make their way through the legislative process, it is hard to imagine that they can be shrugged off as something that can wait 5 months until lawmakers know if they will get to keep their jobs or not.
There are bills that are attempting to address the opioid epidemic, gun violence, educational needs, the State’s economy, quality of life issues, and hosts of other things that could make life better for all Ohioans that are going to be put on the back burner for several months.
As Smith said, if they need to come back early to get something done they will; but only if they need to.