Moving Pension Reform and Exotic Animals Ban, And The State's Utility Watchdog

Oil and gas field inspectors are now wanted at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which plans to triple its staff of inspectors to keep up with the increase in drilling activity around the state. Gov. John Kasich says Ohio now has a new policy for emergency rooms and urgent cares when it comes to prescribing prescription pain killers. A wide-ranging bill to bring order to Ohio's gambling laws has cleared the state Senate, but it won’t make it to the governor’s desk in time for the opening of the state’s first casino. Now on its way to the Governor’s desk – and perhaps then to court - is a measure to repeal a contentious new election law that was supposed to be before voters this fall. And a big education bill that the governor has criticized for lowering state reading standards has cleared the Ohio Senate.

And now the latest in pension reform - Senate leaders, including President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond), say they are ready to go ahead and pass the changes that the management of Ohio’s five public pension funds want. But Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) says it won’t be on the fast track in the House.

Last week, five animals that had been taken after the exotic animal tragedy in Zanesville last fall were returned to the widow of the man who was found dead not long after those animals were released from their cages on his farm. This comes as the proposed ban on new ownership of exotic animals moves into the House, after having passed the Senate almost unanimously. Among the dozens of exotic animal owners who've testified against the ban are Robert Siders and Joe Schreibvogel, who say the state should take a different approach and suggest owners will fight it every step of the way. But Karen Minton, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, argues the ban makes sense.

Last year was a rough one at the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the watchdog agency funded by the state to fight for consumers in rate cases and to provide information on utilities issues. Gov. Kasich’s budget cut funding to the OCC in half, and the Consumers' Counsel resigned in protest. Now Bruce Weston is in charge at that office, and is taking on some big issues with a lot less money behind him.

And this week winners of the Governor’s Awards for the Arts were honored: individual artist Michael Jerome Bashaw of Kettering and Barbara Robinson of Columbus for her lifetime achievement in the arts, along with Ed Stern and Buzz Ward of Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, the Toledo School for the Arts, Arts Patron Louise Nippert and Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio for their support of the arts.

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