COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The summer break at the Ohio Statehouse is underway but lawmakers are already turning their focus to key issues they want to tackle in the second half of the year.
Ohio’s senators and representatives worked overtime this summer to get the state’s budget passed, but that meant they had to put several other bills on the backburner. Ohio Senate president, Republican Sen. Larry Obhof, and Democratic Sen. Sean O’Brien spoke with NBC4’s Colleen Marshall about their thoughts on how the budget worked out as well as their legislative plans for the next few months.
“I think that the final product was worth the wait,” Obhof said. “It’s a conservative bill.”
The budget includes a 4 percent income tax cut and eliminates two tax brackets. It also stipulates that if any government agency wants to enact new regulations, they have to get rid of two old ones.
“I think those types of reform at the federal level have been a significant part of — I think the untold part of — our economic strength right now,” Obhof said.
The budget also significantly expands services for Ohioans, which explains a lot of the bipartisan support for it. In fact, only one Democrat was not in favor of passing the budget bill.
“This budget was very unique,” Senate Minority Whip Sean O’Brien said. “The president of the Senate, Larry Obhof, worked well with us.”
O’Brien explained that Obhof came to Democrats to share ideas and ask what their priorities were.
But despite the broad bipartisan appeal, there are some points that remain controversial for some.
The budget significantly increased funding for crisis pregnancy centers, which are often considered “pro-life” centers by the left. Obhof supported that increase in funding, as well as the much-debated fetal heartbeat bill. However, new polling suggests that most Ohioans disagree with that hard of an anti-abortion stance and that only 39 percent of Ohioans support the heartbeat bill.
“I certainly think that my views and what I have supported and what I have voted for have been representative of the majority view of my district,” Obhof said. “I’m not going to put much stock into polls that I wasn’t involved in drafting the language for.”
For his part, O’Brien agrees with the polling.
“We don’t need to be in the doctor’s office,” he said. “That’s between the doctor and his patient, the woman.”
The budget also set aside funding for early childhood education, protecting waterways throughout the state and more. Now, Obhof and his colleagues are ready to focus on other legislative priorities, most notably Senate Bill 3, which would reform sentencing for drug-related offenses.
“Major sentencing reforms will be one of the focuses of the Senate,” Obhof said.
O’Brien also wants to work on sentencing reform, mainly empowering judges to look at prior felony convictions and decide whether or not to expunge them from offenders’ records. He related the story of a constituent who was unable to be promoted at his job due to a felonious assault conviction when he was 18 years old.
“Because of that he had an F2 (second-degree felony) on his record,” O’Brien said. “That followed him and he could not get the licenses so he could move up.”
O’Brien said his bill would allow judges to review cases and criteria, including how old the offender was when the crime was committed, and take those factors into consideration.
Obhof said that whatever happens, the legislature will be working on getting things done for the remainder of its 2-year term.