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A look at new laws taking effect this year

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: January 22, 2017 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- Into every even-year holiday season, a few Christmas trees must fall, courtesy of state lawmakers scrambling to finish their work during their general assembly-ending lame duck session.

Christmas trees are what Statehouse dwellers call bills that are decked out with a multitude of ornaments, often at the last minute and requiring creative thinking to meet the usual single-subject rule required when moving packages of law changes.

There were several Christmas trees that moved through the Ohio House and Senate during their final full-fledged voting sessions of the year, chock full of amendments covering everything from puppy mill puppies to (potentially) guns in day care centers.

In this article and parts 2-5, we'll cover 50 of those and other law changes that have been enacted with the help of Gov. John Kasich's pen in recent days, most of which will take effect in about three months.

Here are 10 law changes to start the series:

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1. Puppy Mills: SB 331, as introduced and passed, included language blocking local communities from restricting the sale of puppy mill puppies. The legislation was informally called the Petland bill, after businesses in a couple of Ohio cities where puppy mill-related ordinances were enacted.

Proponents say the law changes are needed to protect business interests -- an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission noted lawmakers' intent to state "that the regulation of pet stores is a matter of general statewide interest, that the bill constitutes a comprehensive plan with respect to all aspects of the regulation of pet stores."

Backers also say the law changes, for the first time, provide increased regulation of stores that sell dogs.

Opponents counter that local communities should be allowed to decide whether to allow sales of puppy mill puppies or to make other decisions that SB 331 preempts.

2. Minimum Wage: Speaking of which, the bill blocks local decision-making in other areas, including efforts to raise the minimum wage higher than the levels set in the Ohio Constitution and state law.

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Voters in the city of Cleveland were set to vote on such a measure later this year.

3. Micro Wireless: There's also preemption language in SB 331 limiting communities' ability to control the placement of so-called "micro wireless" infrastructure, a move to quicken the regulatory process for the new high-tech systems needed for driverless vehicles and other innovations.

The bill is aimed at smaller antennas that can be attached to stoplights or light poles, with requirements for an expedited local review process and caps on related fees and charges.

4. One more: Also on the preemption front, lawmakers included language granting private employers "exclusive authority to establish policies" related to their workers' hours, schedules, fringe benefits and other agreements.

According to LSC, the bill "expresses the intent of the general assembly to exclusively regulate hours of labor and fringe benefits arising from an employer-employee relationship as a matter of statewide concern."

5. Bestiality: Lawmakers added another amendment to that bill instituting criminal penalties against those who have sexual relations with animals.

Separate legislation on that issue had been offered in multiple general assemblies, with backers citing disturbing incidents of bestiality.

The legislation includes provisions for the impoundment of victim animals and required psychological counseling for perpetrators.

6. Cockfighting: Finally, the bill allows criminal charges for individuals who buy tickets, bet or otherwise choose to participate in cockfighting, bearbaiting or any other activity in which animals are pitted against other animals.

7. Tax Breaks: Wonder how much money the state is forgoing in tax collections through credits, exemptions and other breaks?

HB 9 creates a permanent joint legislative committee, with half a dozen lawmakers and the state tax commissioner or a designee of the latter, to review so-called tax expenditures on a regular basis.

According to an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission, there are 128 such tax expenditures that will be considered by the new panel.

Members will determine how many people benefit from the tax breaks and how the exemptions affect the state's general revenue fund.

A report of the findings will be posted online and attached to each biennial budget.

8. Flags: HB 18 bars manufactured home parks and other landlords from prohibiting the display of U.S., Ohio and service flags at residences.

There's a requirement that tenants contact landlords before installing flag brackets or poles.

9. Medicaid Stuff: HB 89 will enable physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists with provider agreements to refer residents under the Medicaid School Program for the services they provide.

Rep. Anthony DeVitis (R-Green), primary sponsor of the measure, said the law changes were needed to bring Ohio into compliance with federal requirements.

10. Bikes and Cars: Tired of all those close calls you see when drivers get too close to bicyclists on the road?

HB 154 looks to do something about that, requiring drivers to stay at least 3 feet away from bicyclists they encounter.

Existing state law requires vehicles to pass bicyclists at a "safe distance," though an actual measurement is not defined. HB 154 would add a 3-foot rule to state law, something more than 20 other states and several Ohio cities have already adopted.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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