Some Lawmakers Question Parts of Ohio Budget, While Critics Plan Next Steps

The budget debate brought criticism from some lawmakers who surprisingly didn’t want to gripe about spending, but something else. That included Republican Rep. Terry Boose of Norwalk.

“We didn’t really vet the numbers as hard and as long as we should have," he said. "And why? Because we were doing policy.”

Democratic Sen. Tom Sawyer of Akron agreed, saying he’s concerned that the budget is being transformed from a spending plan “into a massive bill grounded in what are primarily policy changes -- a close to 5,500 page budget, nearly 5,000 pages of which are policy changes.”

And even Republican Senate President Keith Faber said that he didn’t like some of the policy in the budget.

“There are provisions in this budget if stand-alone bills came up on them, I would vote against them," he said.

It’s not unusual for policy provisions that are not related to spending to be tucked into budgets, but some critics are saying this budget has more than the usual share. There was the exemption of spider monkeys in the exotic animals law and permission for chiropractors to clear student athletes to return to play after concussions -- those were vetoed by Gov. John Kasich.

The budget allows for a vote on sin taxes in Cuyahoga County, and requires a study on facial recognition software to be used by casinos. It includes parts of the bill known as Nitro’s Law, to provide serious penalties for animal cruelty in some cases.

And there are several provisions related to abortion, including one that requires a doctor to notify a woman in writing of the presence of a fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed. That last item is reminiscent of the so-called "heartbeat bill," which died in the Senate last year, and Nitro’s Law was stalled in the legislative process as well.

Paul Beck is a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

“Sometimes these things get slipped in at the last minute," he said, "and then the individual member is forced to, without really looking very carefully at all – you know, the budget’s a huge bill – without looking very carefully at everything, the individual member is forced to kind of gulp and say, ‘Well, you know, OK, I don’t like this particularly, but I’m going to go ahead and vote for the omnibus budget bill.’”

Greg Lawson of the conservative think-tank the Buckeye Institute puts it this way:

“Budgets become Christmas trees," he said. "There’s a lot of issues out there that people want to see move forward -- this provides the opportunity to be able to do it.”

But critics do have a way to fight back against the parts that are policy-only and not related to spending, says Ohio State law professor Dan Tokaji.

“If the legislature includes in the bill other provisions that make permanent changes to the law of the state of Ohio, then that ought to be subject to a referendum," he said.

But there’s a quick time frame -- just 90 days to file the paperwork and gather the signatures to put any disputed issues before voters. Paid workers have been able to make that happen, but many groups that advocate for and against causes don’t have the funds to put together a petition drive in a short period of time. But abortion rights supporters say they have lawyers looking into this and other options.

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