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A bumper 2018 flock of Ohio legislative lame ducks could spell trouble: Thomas Suddes

September 22, 2018

A bumper 2018 flock of Ohio legislative lame ducks could spell trouble: Thomas Suddes

For an Ohioan, danger to his or her liberty, or bank account, can take many forms. As noted in a previous column, a New York State judge wrote a guideline in the 1860s, just after the Civil War, that applies not just in Albany but also in Columbus: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Peril to Ohio taxpayers peaks in the Novembers of even-numbered years, during so-called lame-duck sessions. That is when General Assembly members – some re-elected; some defeated; some who didn’t run for re-election to begin with – return to Columbus to take their bows.

Lame-duck sessions are when the General Assembly risks doing things it wouldn’t otherwise risk doing, such as giving itself a pay raise or passing sweetheart bills for big shots. (Base annual pay for a member of General Assembly, a job that is legally part-time, is $60,584, plus benefits. The U.S. Census Bureau says median household income in Ohio is $50,674.)

And this November, the Ohio House’s raft of lame ducks could be bigger than usual, which could stoke a double whammy. Example: Of the 99 Ohio House districts, 32 are “open” – now held by men and women who won’t be in the House in January. True, some are running for the state Senate. Some Ohio House members are just plain going home, while others are seeking statewide office. For example, state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat, and state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican, are competing to become Ohio’s secretary of state. State Rep. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, and former U.S. Rep. Zack Space, a Democrat from Tuscarawas County, are competing to become Ohio’s auditor. And state Rep. Robert Sprague, a Findlay Republican, and Cincinnati lawyer Rob Richardson, a Democrat, are competing to become Ohio’s state treasurer.

Whammy One: The more retiring or defeated Ohio legislators, the more ... imaginative ... the bills the General Assembly might pass.

Whammy Two: After an election, Ohioans aren’t very likely to keep their eyes on legislators’ antics. By November, if an Ohioan hears another word about politics, she or he will likely grab the remote or reach for the Maalox. Besides, Thanksgiving will be near, and Christmas beckoning. After Election Day, the only win or loss many Ohioans may care about will be the Ohio State-Michigan score (the curtain goes up Nov. 24 in Ohio Stadium on this year’s chapter of the football epic).

In fairness to the men and women who have seats in the legislature, General Assembly Republicans could choose to be pragmatic rather than slick during Lame Duck 2018. They have the clout: The GOP runs the state Senate 24-9 and Ohio’s House of Representatives 66-33. Practically speaking, that means what Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, and Republican House Speaker Ryan Smith, of Gallia County’s Bidwell, want passed likely will be passed.

So voters should ask incumbent state senators and state representatives – General Assembly members who’ll vote in 2018′s lame-duck session – what bills they aim to pass by Dec. 31, when the 132nd General Assembly lurches into history. Before an incumbent answers the question, he or she might want to recall part of the Book of Common Prayer’s confession, then gauge whether it applies to him or her: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done. And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

The 2017-18 legislature’s “undone” list is plenty long. Agreed, part of that is due to the Ohio House’s springtime deadlock over electing a new speaker when then-Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Clinton County Republican, resigned in the face of a continuing federal investigation. As for the state Senate, well, as previously observed, a long-suffering lobbyist once summarized the upper house’s pace: “I spent a year in the Ohio Senate one day.”

Still, even given legislators’ bias toward inertia (stalling remotely controversial decisions with “study committees” and “task forces”), once the General Assembly passed a state budget in mid-2017, Ohio legislators hit the snooze button. What the House and Senate pass during 2018′s lame-duck could help make up for all that lost time – or stuff yet another piñata for Ohio fat cats.

Thomas Suddes, a member of the editorial board, writes from Athens.

To reach Thomas Suddes: tsuddes@cleveland.com, 216-999-4689

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