Ohio General Assembly Eyes Priorities For 2018

2018 will be a year dominated by politics and some policy in the Ohio Statehouse.  99 Ohio House seats and half of the 33 Ohio Senate seats are up for grabs in 2018.  With 2018 being an election year, and one in which many are predicting a potentially challenging year for Republicans, legislative leaders are fine tuning where they want to devote their energy, while leaving time for members to spend time in their districts campaigning. This points to a relatively active first three months of the year, a busy lame duck session at the end of the year, with a few weeks of legislative activity sandwiched in between, leaving the rest of the calendar free for campaigning for the May primary and November general election. With regard to where the legislature will be spending the bulk of its time, the following is a list of issues that they plan on taking up:

Congressional Districting – Sen. Matt Huffman is sponsoring a bipartisan resolution that sets to address how Congressional districts will be drawn moving forward. The resolution seeks to set out of a process that results in “fairer” districts being drawn, whereby the legislature maintains a level of control over the drawing of the lines, but also establishes a commission that would be triggered if agreement over those lines is not agreed to by the legislature. If passed and enacted, the process outlined in the resolution would go before voters in May. Concurrent with this legislative activity, a group known as “Fair Districts – Fair Elections” continues to gather signatures for a re-districting plan that would go before voters in November. If the legislature’s resolution is approved by voters in May, this group may choose to forego its efforts.

Energy  The legislature still has before it several bills that would impact certain parts of the energy sector.

  • HB 114 (Renewable Energy Mandates) – This bill seeks to amend Ohio’s law with regard to renewable energy standards, and incorporate optional elements to those standards. The bill is currently pending the Senate Public Utilities Committee, and has been the subject of considerable debate, as groups opposing the bill claim the legislation rolls back renewable energy standards. The senate is currently in discussions with the Governor, who vetoed earlier legislation in this area.
  • SB 238 (Wind Turbine Setbacks) – This legislation seeks to loosen restrictions on wind turbines. The issue, which was previously led by former Sen. Cliff Hite, is now being shepherded by Sen. Matt Dolan. The House has indicated some openness to passing such legislation, signaling a reversal from previous House positions on this issue.
  • SB 155, HB 239 (OVEC Cost Recovery) – These bills seek to enact a more uniform approach to cost recovery for owner ship stakes of public utilities in the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC).

Capital Bill  The legislative process for reviewing capital bill request is underway. Those interested in receiving capital funds for various capital projects, have been meeting with, and submitting requests to legislators’ offices for the past several weeks. Legislators will submit their top requests to legislative leadership in both Chambers by January 19th. Leaders in both Chambers will then meet to review thier members’ requests, followed by joint meetings between the House, Senate, and Governor. The intent is for those meetings to result in an agreed to bill, to be introduced in mid to late February. If an agreed to bill is achieved at introduction, it is expected that concurrent hearings will occur in both the House and Senate, with passage to occur quickly thereafter, sometime prior to Easter recess. Areas of focus for capital projects are expected to include job creation and development, as well as projects that impact the opioid crisis.

Opioid Crisis – The legislature continues to seek ways to impact the opioid crisis in Ohio. In particular, the House intends to tackle the issue from the point of view of kids and other family members who are disaffected by opiate addiction. The foster system is under tremendous strain as a result of addicted parents who cannot care for their children. Additionally compelling are examples of teenagers who live under great stress as they try and care for their families while trying to plan for their futures. The House has indicated a desire to seek legislation to assist these family members who are sometimes overlooked in efforts to help those who are addicted.

Judges Seeking Office – The legislature, and the House in particular, is prepared to look at and pursue legislation that puts parameters around sitting judges who choose to seek candidacy to other offices. This issue arose last year when Supreme Court Judge William O’Neill announced his candidacy to be the Democrat nominee got Governor in 2018. Amid outcry from many state leaders, including the Chief Justice of the Court, O’Neill announced that he will step down from the Court. But nonetheless, it has raised an issue that House believes needs addressed.