By Marc Kovac
Ohio’s Rehabilitation Services Commission, which provides assistance to disabled residents, is poised to be renamed the Opportunity for Ohioans with Disabilities Agency, and its clients will be called people “with a disability” rather than “handicapped.”
Ohioans on the hook for $1 or less on their state tax bill would be excused from making payments, and those owed refunds of a buck or less wouldn’t get a check from the state, either.
And nursing homes would have to cease using overhead paging systems “except for matters of urgent public safety or urgent clinical operations.”
Those are a few of the more obscure provisions included in Gov. John Kasich’s $63 billion-plus bienniel budget and outlined in a comparison document recently compiled by the state’s legislative service commission (online at www.lsc.state.oh.us).
Bigger ticket items in the two-year spending plan have received much attention from the governor and others, who have focused their public comments on expanding health services to the needy, reforming the state’s tax structure and revamping the way public schools are funded.
But buried in the thousands of pages of budgetary legalese are many other minor provisions. Here are 10 that could make for interesting water cooler discussions:
1Pay Raise: Language included in the budget bill would increase pay rates for up to five unclassified employees in each state department “who are involved in policy development and implementation.”
The change could increase pay for eligible workers to $64.45 per hour or $134,056 per year from a maximum of $49.50 per hour or $102,960 annually.
Dave Pagnard, spokesman for the Office of Budget and Management, offered the following explanation for the change: “This increase in pay range will allow appointing authorities a broader range of compensation to attract employees to these specialized and often complex policy positions. Since the pay ranges have not changed in several years, the current pay-range limitations do not always provide the flexibility to attract well qualified candidates.”
2Livestock: Under laws affecting the Ohio Department of Agriculture is a provision that would establish three levels of violations and penalties for abuse or neglect of livestock, adding potential felony charges based on the operator’s intent.
According to Pagnard, the change would bring Ohio into compliance with federal law.
3 Grants for ALTERNATIVE FUEL: The budget proposes allowing the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority to fund projects “related to the recharging or refueling of vehicles” that promote “the reduction of emissions of air contaminants through the use of an alternative fuel or a renewable energy resource.”
The move could mean more money for natural-gas vehicles efforts.
4 Surplus Spending: Not all of the state’s unspent money will be put in the rainy day fund. Language in the budget would require more than $165 million to be directed to several different funds:
Up to $15 million to disaster services, for use by the Department of Public Safety in responding to natural disasters and other emergencies, according to Pagnard.
Up to $20 million for Controlling Board emergency purposes, which can be used for disasters or emergencies or other unforeseen costs, including those stemming from lawsuits.
Up to $12 million for natural-resources special purposes, which covers lawsuit settlements involving the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
And up to $120 million to the unemployment compensation interest contingency fund “for payment to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury of accrued interest costs related to federal unemployment account borrowing.”
5 Casino Transfer: The budget would allow casino operators to transfer their licenses to someone else, with approval from the Casino Control Commission.
The transfer would require an application and a pplication fee. The legislation also “permits the commission to assess an additional reasonable fee to review a casino operator license transfer request.”
6 Unclaimed Funds: The leg- islation would increase the threshold value of unclaimed funds to $50 from $10 required for the Department of Commerce to maintain the owner’s name on a list of individuals with unclaimed money being held by the state.
The language would also require criminal background checks for Ohioans applying to be “finders,” those who receive payment for helping people locate unclaimed funds. The FBI checks are currently required for out-of-state finders.
7 Fire Station Grants: The bud- get earmarks up to $2.1 million for grants to local fire departments, to be used to purchase equipment, training and other costs. The grants will be capped at $15,000-$25,000 per year, with the larger amount for departments serving areas with natural disaster declarations from the governor.
8 Worker TRAINING: The legislation requires up to $30 million annually to be used for vouchers to provide training for Ohio workers already on the job but wanting to improve or increase their skills.
The vouchers will be capped at $6,000 per worker per year, and their employers will have to apply for and provide some matching funding to cover training sessions.
9 School Year: Kasich’s education plan would change minimum school- year requirements to focus on the number of hours students are in classrooms rather than the number of days.
The budget proposes 455 hours for half-day kindergarten, 910 hours for all-day kindergarten and grades one through six and 1,001 hours for grades seven through 12. That compares to the current 182-day requirement.
10 Baby Screening: Republicans in the Ohio Senate introduced legislation earlier this month that would require screening of newborns for congenital heart defects.
Kasich’s two-year budget includes a comparable provision, requiring hospitals and freestanding birthing centers to conduct the noninvasive screening .
“unless a parent objects on religious grounds.”