By Marc Kovac
There was much Statehouse debate in recent weeks concerning Gov. John Kasich’s plans for the Ohio Turnpike.
There was much less debate on several other bills outlining billions of dollars in spending for a handful of state agencies, whose budgets move separately from the larger biennial legislation.
In less time than the entire floor debate on turnpike bonding, the Ohio House last week OK’d $7 billion in spending authority over the next two fiscal years for the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety and several other state offices.
Here are 10 things to think about related to the first three budget bills to move this session:
1Bipartisan support: There was more than an hour of debate on the biennial transportation budget, but there was little discussion on two other budgets that moved through the House.
In fact, the votes were unanimous, with all Republicans and Democrats in support, for the two-year spending plans for the state industrial commission and the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. (All three budgets still require Senate approval and potential conference committee deliberations prior to final passage.)
Unlike other budget bills, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of documentation, the commission and BWC legislation had little in the way of explanatory analysis, with a total of 10 pages of proposed law changes for both.
2Separate: The transportation, BWC and industrial commission budgets move separately from the larger $63 billion-plus biennial budget, which lawmakers will OK by midyear.
According to Dave Pagnard, spokesman for the Office of Budget and Management, the transportation budget moves sooner in the year to authorize spending in advance of the spring construction season.
3 Late fees: Remember the brouhaha a few years back when lawmakers quietly implemented a new late fee for driver’s licenses and registrations?
A provision included in the transportation budget addresses the issue, reducing fines to $10 from $20 and extending a grace period for late-comers to 30 days from seven, according to an analysis.
4 Vision test: The transportation budget would allow anyone holding a valid driver’s license from another state to obtain an Ohio license if they pass the bureau of motor vehicle’s vision screening.
The House version of the budget removes a requirement that such drivers also complete the standard BMV examination.
5 Vehicle weight: The legislation would increase vehicle size limits on state highways, to 90,000 pounds from 80,000 pounds. Weight limits would remain unchanged for vehicles on county and township roads.
6 Reasonable Fees: The transportation budget would allow county commissioners to charge a “reasonable fee” to cover the costs of vacating a public road, according to the legislative service commission. Costs could include published and mailed notices. And county officials could require a deposit at the time an individual petitions for a road to be vacated.
7 Auction: The legislation would allow the owners of “classic motor vehicles” (those older than 25 years) to have four auctions per year without having to obtain the requisite state licenses, according to the legislative service commission. Current state law sets the limit at two auctions per year.
8 Report: The transportation budget would create a “Legislative Task Force on Department of Transportation Funding” to study ODOT’s funding needs, with a report and recommendations due at the end of 2014. The panel would include six lawmakers, four appointed by the majority leaders of the House and Senate and two appointed by the minority leaders of the chambers.
9 Accident scenes: The legislation would allow individuals working as subordinates to law enforcement to remove vehicles, cargo and other personal property from accident scenes without fear of liability if damages or injury or death occur. The latter immunity would cover towing companies except in cases involving hazardous material, structural damage to roads and reckless behavior, according to the legislative service commission.
Motor voter: Democrats offered a number of amendments to the transportation budget that were rejected.
Included in the mix was language by Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, creating a study commission to determine how the state could improve its compliance with the federal motor voter law.
Clyde voiced concern that Ohio was lagging other states in the number of voters registered while applying for or renewing driver’s licenses and that thousands of provisional ballots cast in the November election were tossed because Ohioans weren’t properly registered.