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OHIO GENERAL ASSEMBLY Lawmakers target abortion, schools, ethics in final days



Published: Sat, November 24, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

COLUMBUS

Ohio lawmakers’ to-do list before the end of the year includes a possible update to the state’s ethics rules and a bill to protect young athletes against brain injuries.

During the lame-duck session that continues after Thanksgiving break, legislative leader are also taking a hard look at possible changes to the state’s election rules and a bill to shuffle how public family-planning dollars are distributed.

Republicans hold majorities in each chamber, and the GOP will have continued control when the newly elected General Assembly starts its session in January.

Here’s a look at some issues percolating in the Statehouse as the year winds down:

ABORTION

Leaders in both chambers are weighing whether to act on a bill that would boot Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for public family-planning money.

Supporters of the measure say other quality providers of women’s health care have sprung up in 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 bill has passed a House committee and could get a full House for a vote.

House Speaker William Batchelder says he’s yet to talk to his Republican members about the proposal, though he added he would be surprised if there weren’t enough votes to pass it out.

Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said his caucus is mulling the bill, as well as what action — if any — to take on another measure that would ban most abortions after the first detectable heartbeat.

The so-called heartbeat bill cleared the House and has been stalled in the Senate for most of the year.

The heartbeat bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, says he’s optimistic that a compromise could get the measure moving again. But Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon, wouldn’t say what is contained in such a deal.

ELECTION RULES

A working group of senators has been reviewing whether to update the state’s election law after the presidential election was marked by several legal challenges to Ohio’s rules.

Proposed changes to early voting days and provisional ballot rules sparked partisan rancor in the Legislature this session. Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, suggested the issue be set aside during the lame-duck session so leaders would have more time to find a bipartisan consensus.

Niehaus hasn’t said whether his chamber would pass any changes in the final days, but he’s left the option open.

Batchelder has told reporters that he would rather take on the topic next year.

“Those are complex bills,” he said. “I think it’s something that we would want to hold hearings on — extensive hearings.”

SCHOOL RATINGS

A proposal pending in the House would overhaul the academic-performance rating system for Ohio school districts. Currently, the state rates schools with such labels as “excellent with distinction” or “academic emergency.” Under the phased-in plan, schools would instead receive an A through F grade based on state standards. Districts wouldn’t receive an overall grade for two years in the new rating system.

A House education committee has been revising and debating the bill. Batchelder has said the measure is among the chamber’s priorities for the lame-duck session.

Niehaus introduced a bill Wednesday to update the state’s ethics rules, which he says haven’t been revamped since the 1990s.

Niehaus has said he wants to modernize the law to make disclosure forms more transparent.

For instance, he said it’s an onerous process to go back and make a change to a paper financial disclosure report, while correcting a campaign finance filing can happen with the click of a button.


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