Statehouse Republicans Unveil Their Priorities
Republicans in the Ohio House say the items on their agenda fall into four categories or pillars - competitiveness, energy, education and health. And new Speaker Cliff Rosenberger of Clarksville says there's an attitude of compromise with fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich and with Minority Democrats. But Rosenberger, who got support from Kasich in his quest to be speaker, said his members are going to fight for the things they want.
"We're going to continue to work strong with our neighbors and our partners in the legislature, both in the Senate and in the governor's office, but let me be clear - this is an institution that will lead on its own and have an agenda to push forward for the right things to put Ohio on the right path."
House Republicans want to reduce the business filing fee from $125 to $99, revise the state's Ohio Business Gateway website, and create a $100 million grant program that will give up to $5000 toward the completion of a certificate or a degree for one of nearly 200 in-demand jobs listed by the state. Lawmakers also hope to take elements of the big agriculture bill that stalled in the Senate in December to work on issues related to toxic algae blooms and water quality. And Rosenberger says they want to make changes to the laws on community and charter schools.
"This is not a witch hunt on charter schools. This is something I think we need to do to make it more fair and balanced, make sure there's transparency and that there's accountability."
Two planned changes include requiring charters to include in their report cards students that have been offloaded into dropout recovery schools, and requiring poor performing charters to get permission from the state to change sponsors to avoid "sponsor hopping". And finally, there's the expansion of Medicaid, the largest portion of the state budget. Barbara Sears of Sylvania in northwest Ohio will handle that, and says that now that Gov. John Kasich's Medicaid expansion is done, the approach will be to get most of those who are benefitting from it off of it.
"Obviously we know in Ohio some of our Medicaid folks will never have the opportunity and will never look to the opportunity to getting off of Medicaid and getting off of entitlement programs and we need to respect that. But we also know that we've got a core group of folks whose mission should be to use Medicaid and our state entitlement programs as a transition to somewhere else in their life."
Speaker Pro Tem Ron Amstutz of Wooster reiterated that the fight over Medicaid expansion is old news, and that lawmakers now will work on how to deal with it.
"I think that the space that we want to work on is one that can be very bipartisan, and we'll focus on - we do have big differences with some of the federal policy that's in place. And we're going to address those, but we're not going to let that get in the way of actually helping the people of Ohio who are struggling."
A couple of the Republican leaders echoed some criticism from their colleagues in previous General Assemblies, and said they wish they could have received an advance copy of Kasich's budget, but Sears says they plan on taking that budget and - quoting here - "making it our own". Rosenberger says the in-demand job grant program will be House Bill 1, but says the number of the bill doesn't indicate its importance. And he wouldn't make any comments about new abortion restriction legislation that anti-annotation advocates have promised will be proposed, other than to say that all members have the opportunity to put forward bills that can be discussed by the caucus.