The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 30, 2012

Abortion limits and guns among issues hanging in Ohio

By ANN SANNER
Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Ohio lawmakers have adjourned for the year, leaving a number of bills effectively dead — at least for the moment.

When the newly elected General Assembly convenes next month, some of the issues that were hanging are likely to be resurrected and debated again.

Republicans will continue hold majorities in the state House and Senate when the legislative session opens Jan. 7. Here’s a look at some topics that could resurface at the Statehouse:

ABORTION

A bill to send Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for public family-planning money saw last-minute action by a House committee, but its momentum fizzled after the Senate’s leader indicated that the chamber had no plans to act on the proposal.

Supporters of the measure say other quality providers of women’s health care have sprung up around the state and the bill would give those centers a chance at government funds. But critics, including Democrats, argue Planned Parenthood provides needed preventive health care to low-income women that would be jeopardized by the bill.   

Underlying the debate is Planned Parenthood’s role as a provider of abortions, a procedure supporters of the bill oppose funding with public dollars.  

The proposal could pick up steam again now that Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus has left the Legislature because of term limits.

His departure could also free up another measure for action: the so-called heartbeat bill. The legislation would ban most abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It cleared the House, but stalled in the Senate.  

ELECTION RULES

State lawmakers had been mulling whether to update Ohio’s election law after the campaign season was marked by several lawsuits over rules in the presidential battleground state.  

A group of senators also had been studying possible changes to the law at the year’s end, though a proposal wasn’t introduced.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has suggested that Ohio’s voting hours and days should be written into law, along with its rules on provisional ballots.

If the topic comes up in next session, House Speaker William Batchelder has said he’d like to hold extensive hearings on the matter.

GUNS

Senators scrapped an effort to expand how the state’s attorney general enters into agreements with other states to allow Ohioans with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms among those states.

The proposal was removed from a gun bill at the year’s end so lawmakers could spend more time on it.  

Currently, the attorney general must negotiate such written reciprocity agreements with states. The idea would allow automatic reciprocity with states that offer such a provision in their law. It would work in a way similar to how states recognize out-of-state driver’s licenses.

Some law enforcement groups and others opposed to the provision feared it would permit license-holders from states with weaker training requirements to legally carry weapons in Ohio.

INTERNET CAFES

It’s been nearly two years since lawmakers first began weighing what to do about gambling operations known as Internet cafes. These sweepstakes games are largely unregulated and don’t face the same scrutiny as casinos and other games of chance.

Some lawmakers favored new regulations while others wanted a ban on the Internet cafes. Ultimately, legislators ran out of time to pass a bill they could agree on.

In December, the House passed a proposal that amounted to a virtual ban on the game parlors. It would shut down nearly all of the estimated 800 sites by narrowly defining what counts as a sweepstake. And many in his Republican majority caucus were leaning toward imposing regulations and not an outright ban, and that he anticipated the measure would be studied again next session.

Batchelder has expressed confidence the bill would be quickly re-introduced.

REDISTRICTING

Before leaving for the year, state senators cast largely symbolic votes supporting a bipartisan plan to change the way Ohio draws political maps.

The resolution would change the state constitution to create a seven-member commission that would draw state legislative and U.S. congressional district lines. Approval of the boundaries would require the vote of five members, including at least one minority party member. Both chambers’ approval of the resolution would have sent the issue to the voters to decide.

State Sen. Keith Faber, who’s slated to become Senate president next year, apologized to the House for getting the plan to the chamber too late in the session.

Faber, a Celina Republican, said he expected the House to work with senators next session to “get the job done” and use the proposal as a template to get started.