130th General Assembly Starts Its Work
It’s going to be a busy year at in the House, says Republican Speaker Bill Batchelder.
“Well, there’s no question. I think we’re going to see some exciting announcements this week, and I think we’re going to be looking at very important questions about the structure of state government,” says Batchelder.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Minority Leader Armond Budish is hoping for a Democratic win in a House race in which Republican Al Landis leads Democrat Josh O’Farrell by a handful of votes – if that victory sticks, Republicans would have a supermajorities in the House and Senate. And Budish fears that could mean more controversial bills.
“Talking about things like the Heartbeat Bill, talking about things like a dozen anti-choice bills, attacks on women’s rights, attacks on voting rights, attacks on workers’ rights - we don’t need that. We need jobs. We need job creation. We need better education,” says Budish.
Batchelder says the Heartbeat Bill and other similar measures may depend on the Senate – and on Gov. Kasich, who he says wants to deal with economic and education issues as he goes into his 2014 re-election campaign.
“Last time around, he was very much involved in preparation of bills and so forth. I don’t expect that to change,” says Batchelder.
The biggest thing on the horizon is the state budget, which is expected to be unveiled sometime next month. Batchelder says he’s optimistic the budget debate won’t be combative, but says it will be difficult because of the complexity of the spending plan. Budish also hopes for an easy budget process.
“I’m hoping that it won’t be contentious. I’m hoping that we can work together on it," says Budish.
Among the newly elected lawmakers is Lou Blessing III, who succeeds his father, and Mike Curtin, a retired editor and executive with the Columbus Dispatch. Some lawmakers are returning after a few years away –including Republican Rep. Ron Hood and Chris Redfern, who’s still serving as chair of the Ohio Democratic Party.
The new president of the Ohio Senate, Keith Faber, is already up and running with his new job. He’s made changes to committees that he says will make them more accountable and responsive to the needs of Ohioans. And he says jobs are the Senate’s top priority.
“We are going to focus on job creation and economic development," says Faber. "One of the things I anticipate us doing in the first 6 months of the year is a workforce plan that targets not just the unemployed who are usually targeted by workforce program but also the underemployed…those folks who are in that job but need that next extra steps….those folks cannot take off from their job because they cannot afford it to get the training for that next better job.”
Faber, a Republican, will lead the GOP dominated Senate. But he knows just because most of the members are in the same political party doesn’t mean they will agree on everything. There were often disagreements between Republicans in the last general assembly on issues like labor laws and abortion. And Faber expect the majority party members will disagree on issues again in the future.
“In the Republican Circles, we are going to have areas where we agree to disagree. I am fortunate to have a very good working relationship with the Governor and Speaker Batchelder. I respect both men and I think both of them respect the institutional integrity of the Senate. So from that perspective, we are going to have things where we agree to disagree and we are going to go about things differently. One of the things I’m sure about is with the expertise we’ve got with the 33 members of the senate and with that skill and experience that we are going to be able to put a finer point on most anything that comes out of the legislature,” says Faber.
The head of Democrats in the Ohio Senate, Eric Kearney, says his caucus agrees with the number one priority set out by Faber.
“Jobs are number one,” Kearney.
Kearney knows the Democrats are outnumbered but he sounds optimistic when he’s asked about whether he’s afraid members of his party will be ignored by Republicans.
“I think we have a bright caucus," says Kearney. "We have a number of intelligent Senators. They are very vocal. They are very sophisticated when it comes to the use of media. So I believe we will have a voice and Ohioans will know what we think.”
Now that the new Senators have been sworn in, the work begins immediately.