COLUMBUS — Lawmakers prepared to head north and then back home to their districts for a couple of weeks, the governor spotlighted Ohio’s continuing fight against drug addiction, and the legislature passed a few more bills during what was a busy week on Capitol Square.
Here are 10 things that happened around the Statehouse last week:
1. Spring Break: Lawmakers are in session Tuesday evening, in Sandusky, for Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State address (technically, it’s a joint gathering of the Ohio House and Senate).
And the House Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday for the biennial operating budget and a separate bill outlining spending for the industrial commission.
But lawmakers likely will be sparse for the next few weeks during their spring break. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) told reporters he expects amendments and a floor vote on the main budget bill during the last week of April or first week of May.
Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has already launched informal hearings on the budget bill.
2. Sealed, Delivered and Signed: Kasich signed his first bill of the session, HB 11, a routine tax conformity measure that included language exempting Olympics medals from taxation. A few other bills are headed to his desk.
3. More Bills on the Move: The House passed a handful of bills, which now head to the Senate for further consideration.
HB 73 would prohibit retailers from selling cough medicines containing dextromethorphan to minors without a prescription. The bill is aimed at stopping kids from “Robotripping,” the slang phrase for using Robitussin or other medicines inappropriately.
HB 111 would allow nurses with psychiatric-mental health certifications to have an individual involuntarily hospitalized for mental health treatment in an emergency, according to an analysis by the state’s Legislative Service Commission.
And HB 103 deals with local governments in fiscal emergency, reducing the number of appointees to oversight commissions made by local governments, among other reforms.
The bill has the support of Republican state Auditor Dave Yost, who offered committee testimony in support of it.
4. Two More: The House also passed HB 44, which would designate May 24 as “First Responders Appreciation Day,” and HB 84, which would designate June as “Ohio Goes Boating Month.”
5. High-tech World: A couple of state lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at prompting more students to consider coursework in computer science.
Reps. Rick Carfagna (R-Delaware County) and Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) spoke about HB 170 during a press conference. Among other provisions, the legislation proposes allowing computer science classes to count toward high school math and science graduation requirements, with a grant program to help schools that need to buy new tech.
“Increasingly, automation is eliminating jobs in Ohio’s most historically reliant industries such as automotive manufacturing,” Duffey said in a released statement. “As a result, we need to encourage students to pursue career paths that are more likely to exist and provide a living wage well into the future. Computer science is a broad field, but it is underrepresented in Ohio, in part because we have mandates for graduation requirements such as Algebra 2. What we are doing now is providing flexibility to Ohio students and school districts to increase their offering of computer science and in doing so, better preparing Ohio’s workforce for the jobs that realistically will exist.”
6. Other Legislation: Among bills introduced this week was SB 122, offered by Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander), “to permit handgun licensees to carry concealed handguns in the Statehouse and on its grounds.”
7. Conservatives to Trump: A few lawmakers joined representatives of conservative groups sent a short letter to President Donald Trump, asking him to support the congressional “Freedom Caucus,” after the president Tweeted his opposition the group, which helped block an Obamacare replace/repeal effort that members didn’t think went far enough.
The Ohioans wrote, “… We respectfully ask you to stand with our conservative heroes in the Freedom Caucus, along with other conservatives in the House and Senate. These patriots are working to keep the campaign promises that you — and they — made to us. Please work with members of the Freedom Caucus, not against them….”
The letter was signed by Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party; Terri Iannetta, head of the Summit County Tea Party; and 18 others.
8. Roads and Bridges: The Ohio Department of Transportation recapped the past year’s construction activity, spotlighting $2.3 billion in road and bridge projects, just shy of record-setting results in 2014 and ’15.
The coming construction season, according to ODOT, will include nearly 1,100 projects, 26 of which are valued at more than $10 million.
Also, “Workers will pave 6,945 miles of roadway — enough for a two-lane road from Seattle to Key West, and repair or replace 1,281 bridges.”
And, “Last year, there were 6,041 crashes in work zones resulting in 28 deaths, 186 serious injuries, and 810 minor injuries. The top cause of work zone crashes is following too close. Drivers need to pay extra attention and follow signs and directions in work zones to ensure the safety of workers and motorists.”
9. State Payroll: A few tidbits from the recently released annual state payroll report:
• There were 52,238 state employees on the payroll as of the end of last year, up from 51,806 at the end of 2015 and 51,792 in ’14. The total employee count topped 55,400 at the end of 2011.
• The state paid more than $3.1 billion to employees last year, up from about $3 billion a year earlier. According to Tom Hoyt, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, the numbers include 2.5 percent pay raises for employees and, in some cases, retro pay from 2015.
• Zinovi Goubar, a psychiatrist at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, again topped all other state employees in terms of gross pay, with a total approaching $484,000.
Of that total, $278,000-plus was in overtime.
The top 47 state employees, in terms of gross pay, were psychiatrists, doctors, specialists or otherwise involved in health care, with pay topping $217,000.
According to the Department of Administrative Services, 100 employees had a gross income of $190,000 or more last year.
State workers earned an average gross pay of $52,724.
• State employees earned a total of $123 million-plus in overtime pay last year, up from $112 million in 2015.
Eleven state employees took home more than $100,000 in overtime pay last year.
10. State Payroll Postscript: According to Hoyt, the latest annual report likely will be the last of its kind moving forward, since payroll data is now updated regularly on the Office of Budget and Management’s interactive website (obm.ohio.gov).
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.