New rules for the Ohio House of Representatives, written for the most part by Randy Gardner (R- Bowling Green), were approved by the House Tuesday.
Republicans gained control of the House – and the chance to set the body’s rules for the session that recently started - in the November election. Rep. Gardner said the rules will “promote a more open and fair legislative process.”
He points to what he sees as three significant changes:
•The number of full standing committees is reduced from 27 to 17. Rep. Gardner and House Speaker William Batchelder (R- Medina) say fewer committees foster a “greater focus” on issues and will save taxpayers about $250,000 over the next two years.
• A two-day waiting and reading period has bee re-established for any final votes on bills containing appropriations. The rule requires two days following a conference committee vote before the House may consider the budget.
During the last session House members were given three hours to read 500 changes in the 3,000-page operating budget, which spent about $50.5 billion.
•A rule requiring advance notice of floor amendments has been repealed, giving any House member the chance to propose a floor amendment any time. Under the old rules, members had to have their amendments submitted to the House clerk by 10 a.m.
Gardner said the old rule had the effect of shutting out a lawmaker from debate and offering amendments, which, in turn, shut out their constituents as well.
Rep. Batchelder said only four bills sponsored by Republican members in the past two years were passed by the Democrat-controlled House and none were passed in the first six months of the session.
He called that a “stark contrast” to the 26 Democrat-sponsored bills passed in the 1995-96 session when Republicans controlled the House and he was Speaker Pro Tem.
Rep. Matt Szollosi, (D – Oregon), who last week was elected Assistant Minority Leader of the Democrats, said he voted in favor of the new rules but dismissed any claims the old rules were particularly unfair to the then minority Republicans.
“Randy’s a good friend but to suggest something exclusive to the last General Assembly isn’t accurate,” he said.
He said residents of the 49th district he represents don’t want to see political posturing but want to see results, with an emphasis on jobs and economic development.
Lawmakers will be tested early as the state is forecasting a deficit of about $8 billion in the upcoming operating budget.
A budget proposal from Gov. John Kasich will probably be submitted to the legislature by mid-March and Szollosi expects House leaders to quickly refer it to the finance committee.
He’s also bracing for cuts in the capital budget, which funds major infrastructure and similar projects, saying it will be “rather scant” compared to the past two years when Toledo and Northwest Ohio received a chunk of the $5 billion or so in federal stimulus money funneled through the Ohio Department of Transportation.
“The Toledo area did fairly well,” he said. “But I don’t expect there will be another round of stimulus funding.”