OHIO LEGISLATURE Lawmakers will tackle a variety of issues this year
Local Democrats hope to work more successfully with majority Republicans.
COLUMBUS -- There's just no escaping budget woes, campaign and tax reform and educational and employment issues for state lawmakers.
Many believe they conquered some of these issues over the past year, but admit the issues will be back for another round in 2005.
Topping the list of actions from 2004 that will be revisited in 2005 is the state's two-year operating budget.
Democrats and Republicans in both the Ohio Senate and House agree correcting the budget last year was a great accomplishment, but with the new legislative session comes a new two-year budget.
However, they disagree on the other key issues of 2004.
Bipartisan drug bill
Many Democrats believe the important issues of the past year revolved around passage of a bipartisan prescription drug bill that is expected to save Ohioans more than 30 percent on prescription drugs.
Sen. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, considers the prescription drug bill to be a personal legislative victory for the year.
"When the governor finally implements it, it will save Ohioans," Hagan said.
Republicans tout passage of tort reform and campaign reform legislation.
However, state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-61st, said he was disappointed the campaign reform bill raised the amounts of political contributions.
"That does more to harm to the political process," he said.
Boccieri said he is also concerned and disappointed in the way the Republicans have handled their role as the majority.
"I think we've missed opportunities," he said, adding the imbalance of power sets a "dangerous tone."
Boccieri said he was pleased he was able to get more money last year for airports with military installations.
School funding issues were a low point for some legislators in 2004.
"On the major issues facing the state we fell woefully short," said Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd, referring to the way the Legislature dealt with school funding issues.
However, Dann said he was pleased his amendment to require ground water monitoring at construction and demolition landfills passed.
"That was a victory," Dann said.
Hagan believes that 2004 was a disappointing year.
"We still are not competitive with other states," Hagan said. "Unemployment continues to shake us."
He said he was also disappointed he wasn't able to pass legislation to clean up mercury from coal burning plants or the alternate fuel bill.
While noting the lack of legislative successes by the Democrats over the years, he is hopeful about the new year.
Hagan said new Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, has already "reached out" to him on some issues. He's also hopeful of passing stronger environmental laws for the state.
Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th, said she believes her first term in office was a success.
She was pleased to get legislation passed that permits state funding of motorsports facilities such as the one being proposed near the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
Stabile Harwood said she was also happy about the legislation that provides funding for military air bases.
"That was to me a major issue," she said.
For the new year, Stabile Harwood plans to introduce legislation placing a moratorium on construction and demolition landfills until tougher regulations can be imposed.
She said she is also planning to introduce school funding legislation.
Newly elected state Rep. Randy Law of Warren, D-64th, said he is excited about starting his new job and glad to see that tax reform is so high on the Legislature's agenda.
Law said he also plans to look closely at construction and demolition landfill regulations.
Dann said he wants to introduce insurance reform bills that would have the Ohio Department of Insurance overseeing rates.
Boccieri said he will support tax reform, and he believes there should also be performance audits for Ohio's departments including those of elected officials.
"They're accountable to the people as well and they need to have some fiscal restraint," he said.
For the veterans
Boccieri said he also plans to introduce legislation to assist Ohio veterans returning from Iraq.
He said he would like to offer Ohio taxpayers the chance on tax forms to donate toward a fund to help Ohio soldiers injured in Iraq.
He also wants to close a loophole that has some vets returning to Ohio only to find they've lost their jobs.
"That's the least we can do for them," he said.
Sen. Charlie Wilson of Bridgeport, D-30th, believes the Legislature will be very busy the first half of the year dealing with the budget.
"We have to ask our state government to live within our means," he said.
Wilson takes over the district, which includes Columbiana County, formerly represented by Greg DiDonato.
He said he hopes the state will deal with sales tax reform issues.
"I think that's going to be the umbrella we work under," Wilson said.
He's hopeful that Democrats will be able to work with the majority Republicans in the Senate.
"I have served in the House with many of those now in the Senate," Wilson said. "We have a relationship. We can work together. We've done it in the past."