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OHIO LEGISLATURE Panel reduces benefits in bill



Published: Thu, February 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Democrats on the Senate committee voted against the changes, and the governor also expressed his concerns.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder predicts a conference committee will have to hammer out a bill if the state Senate approves its watered-down version of a House-passed, prescription-drug benefits bill.

"It's disappointing to see what's happened in the Senate," Householder said of the Senate changes unveiled Wednesday.

The House-passed bill would put a prescription-drug discount program in place for senior citizens through the Golden Buckeye Card program.

But the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee unveiled changes that reduce the bill to having the Department of Aging publish an evaluation that compares private discount-card programs for senior citizens.

Committee Chairman Lynn R. Wachtmann said he expected the committee to consider the bill for several weeks and months to come.

"This bill's going to be around for the foreseeable future," Wachtmann, a northwest Ohio Republican, said. "We're still in discussions with interested parties."

Householder said he had been in talks with Senate Republican leaders over the bill for weeks.

Priority: The bill was one of the House Republicans' top legislative priorities. Gov. Bob Taft called for the bill in his State of the State address last year.

The governor renewed the call in his State of the State address this year, asking the Senate to pass the prescription-drug benefits bill by the end of February.

If the Senate passes its version of the bill, Householder said, a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two plans is all but assured.

"I'd say that's a definite," said Householder, a Perry County Republican.

The bill's lead House sponsor said he, too, thought a conference committee was inevitable should the Senate pass its version of the bill.

"I don't think that's the intent of our bill," said state Rep. John P. Hagan, a Stark County Republican.

"We wouldn't pass that in the House. At least I wouldn't recommend it," he said. The House passed the measure last June.

Disappointed: State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat and the ranking Democrat on the Senate health committee, said the changes unveiled by Senate Republicans gutted the original bill.

"Quite frankly, we have done nothing about prescription drugs," said Sen. Hagan, who is not related to Rep. Hagan. "It's basically an empty prescription with no refills."

Democrats on the committee voted against accepting changes to the bill.

Gov. Bob Taft sent a letter to Wachtmann on Wednesday expressing his concerns with the Senate's changes to the bill.

Taft said he hopes the Senate Republicans will recommend a bill similar to the proposal the House has passed.




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