Some lame-duck sessions can produce ugly results

Lame-duck legislative sessions are a dangerous combination of legislators rushing to clear the decks of a backlog of bills — some of them of the flawed special-interest ilk — and the lack of accountability that comes when the lawmakers know they won’t be facing the voters for at least two years (or know that they won’t be coming back in January).

To his credit, out-going GOP Senate President Tom Niehaus blocked lame-duck action on three potentially divisive issues: a clearly unconstitutional limit on 1st and 2nd trimester abortions, restrictions on funding for Planned Parenthood and tighter voter ID requirements. Any sighs of relief, however, are likely to be short-lived, because the General Assembly that will take office in January is more conservative than the one now finishing up its work.

Still, among the measures that this General Assembly is working on are a few that have the potential of ruffling some feathers.

Niehaus has proposed updating the state’s ethics rules by making financial disclosure forms more transparent.

Young athletes at risk

Another measure would seem to be one that no one could argue against. It will require coaches in Ohio’s youth sports leagues to bench players who show concussion-like symptoms.

Everything we are learning about the dangers of concussion to young athletes — primarily, but not exclusively, in football, soccer and hockey — cries out for more to be done to protect them from debilitating injuries.

The law will require coaches to take training so that they know more about concussions and how to spot warning signs. Parents will be required to review and sign information sheets about brain injuries.

The Ohio Department of Health reports that emergency room visits for sports-related traumatic brain injuries for young athletes more than doubled between 2002 and 2010. That would indicate that parents and coaches have already begun taking such injuries more seriously than they had been.

But we’re willing to predict that implementation of the law will not be without controversy. Look for some parents to bristle at a coach benching players out of what the parents see as an excess of caution. And look for other parents to turn to lawyers when a coach doesn’t bench a child who subsequently suffers a second concussion.

In the end, athletic competition for young players will be safer and the children and the sports will be better for it. But finding the proper balance is not going to be without its challenges.

Storage wars

We mentioned that some of the legislation pushed through in the final days of a session is driven by special interests, and one of those has captured the attention of Ohio’s newspapers.

Most people are familiar with “Storage Wars,” a cable TV reality show that centers on a group of people who bid on the contents of storage lockers on which the rental fee is overdue.

Given the great degree of public interest in such auctions, logic would seem to dictate that the more publicity these sales get in Ohio, the better. And yet, in a bill that rewrite the law governing several aspects of such sales, an amendment was slipped in that effectively negates the current requirement that an impending sale be advertised once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the self-service storage facility is located. Instead, HB 247 would require notice by “any other commercially reasonable manner” and then makes a bizarre leap by saying that the advertising “is deemed commercially reasonable if at least three independent bidders attend the sale at the time and place advertised.”

A shared interest

Of course newspapers have a special interest in this watering down of the law, and we acknowledge it. But general advertising serves the public as well. That public suffers when self-storage operators can devise their own methods that result in — literally — a few potential buyers on the inside and everyone else outside.

As Dennis R. Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, pointed out in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill would provide “an easy-to-follow path for the owners of self-storage facilities to bypass the court system and auction the personal property of others.” Among those less likely to hear about the auction are other interested parties. Those others may have liens against the property in question or be spouses, relatives or business partners who may have an ownership interest in the goods.

Knowledge is power, and keeping knowledge from the public, even in matters as mundane as storage-unit auctions, is bad policy. Members of the judiciary committee should recognize that and strip the advertising amendment from the bill.

Lame-duck sessions are inevitable. But every effort should be made by legislators to do more good than harm as they hurry toward adjournment.

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