Bills fly through legislature at dizzying pace

Lawmakers hope to wrap up business for year this week.

Advocates for stronger drunken driving restrictions won a victory Tuesday. So too did those seeking stronger abortion restrictions. And a local senator won unanimous approval for a bill that reforms Ohio’s vicious dog laws in the wake of the 2014 mauling death of Klonda Ritchey of Dayton.

The flurry of bills came so fast and furious it was hard to keep up as Ohio lawmakers did their usual end-of-year dance by plowing through a mountain of proposed legislation.

Under Ohio law all bills that aren’t passed by Dec. 31 of this year must go back to square one, as the two-year legislative window comes to a close. Legislators hope to meet just two more days — today and Thursday — before wrapping up business for 2016.

It’s hard to follow all the ping-pong balls being batted about, so we did it for you. Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s session.

RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARDS: The House voted 54-40 in favor of House Bill 554, which waters down benchmarks for renewable energy use in Ohio by making the standards voluntary instead of mandatory over the next three years. The vote marks the latest turn in a battle over government mandates to push utilities to increase the use of renewable energy sources by 2027 in Ohio. Opponents of the bill say mandatory standards are needed to encourage long-term investments in renewable energy. Trish Demeter, of the Ohio Environmental Council said: "This rushed, and sloppy legislation will have untold impacts on electric bills, result in dirtier air, and stifle economic innovation and job growth. Ohioans deserve better than this."

CONSUMER LOANS: The House voted 79-2 in favor of House Bill 598, which spells out regulations for consumer installment loans. Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank, said installment loans are the latest iteration of payday lending. "The loans have been designed to appear less harmful, but they are still exploitative to financially vulnerable families," said Kalitha Williams of Policy Matters Ohio. Dayna Baird Payne of the Ohio Financial Services Association argued, though, that consumer installment loans are different than payday loans and should have their own set of regulations. The bill still needs approval in the Senate.

VICIOUS DOGS: The Senate voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 151, which revamps Ohio's vicious dog laws. Sponsored by state Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, the bill is named after Klonda Ritchey, a Dayton woman who was mauled to death by her neighbor's two dogs outside her home in 2014. The bill changes and clarifies the definitions of vicious and dangerous dogs and allows local governments to use witness affidavits to establish that a dog is vicious, dangerous or a nuisance. The bill still needs approval from the Ohio House.

DRUNK DRIVING: Advocates for stronger drunken driving restrictions won a victory on Tuesday when the Ohio Senate voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 388, which would permit first-time drunken driving offenders to petition the court for unlimited driving privileges if they agree to use a certified ignition locking device. Mothers Against Drunk Driving say the ignition locks are more effective at preventing repeat drunken driving that restricting driver licenses.

FLAGS: The Senate voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 18, which blocks mobile home parks, condo associations. landlords and neighborhood groups from barring residents from flying certain flags — POW/MIA, blue star or gold star banners, military service flags, the Ohio burgee or Old Glory. The bill is silent on the flying of other flags, such as supporting sports teams or making political statements.

PET STORES, MINIMUM WAGE, & BESTIALITY: In a House committee Tuesday, lawmakers made big changes to a bill designed to block local jurisdictions from passing ordinances to regulate pet stores' purchase of puppies from high-volume dog breeders. Added to the bill is a measure to block cities from passing minimum wage regulations different than the state rate and a measure to explicitly outlaw sexual contact with animals. The amended bill is expected to get a House floor vote this week.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION FUND: Labor, business and politicos on Tuesday announced a stop gap plan for Ohio's unemployment compensation fund while pledging to come up with a long-term fix by April 1 to make the system solvent. Labor and business agreed to share the cost of hiring an actuary, who can crunch the numbers on proposals, and they pledged to present a comprehensive package by April 1. If a comprehensive fix isn't found, the stop gap measures will take effect for 2018 and 2019: a benefits freeze for workers and a tax hike that employers pay on wages. Ohio's unemployment compensation system has been in big trouble for several years as the taxes paid by employers weren't enough to keep up with benefits paid out.

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