Health care, taxes among issues for Ohio lawmakers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A two-year state budget is behind them. A key decision on the Medicaid health program has been made.

The significant policy debates of 2013 may have offered a warm-up to Ohio lawmakers, who plan to turn their attention in the new year to tackling drug abuse and discussing additional tax changes.

State legislators will no doubt be weighing the political consequences as they assess what proposals will advance in the election year. They return to the Statehouse in for voting sessions in mid-January.

Here's a look at the topics they expect to debate in 2014:



At least a dozen health care-related bills have been introduced in the House, including several that seek to address opioid and prescription painkiller abuse. Overdose drug deaths driven largely by painkiller addictions have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.

One of the measures would prevent opioids from being prescribed to minors without their parents' consent. Others are aimed at getting drug addicts effective treatment so they can recover. Republican House Speaker William Batchelder says representatives plan to hear testimony on the proposals and examine how providers are paid in taxpayer-supported health programs.

Proposals in the House and Senate would impose limits on a legislative board that cleared the way for federal funds to be spent on the state's expansion of Medicaid. The seven-member Controlling Board handles certain adjustments to the state budget. The bills come after Gov. John Kasich's administration brought the Medicaid spending request to the panel, bypassing the full Legislature.



Last summer, Ohio lawmakers approved a package of tax adjustments in the state's two-year budget that will reduce overall business and individual taxes by an estimated $2.7 billion over three years. It included a 10 percent cut to the personal income tax to be phased in by 2015.

But Kasich says he wants state lawmakers to consider cutting the income tax further. "If you want Ohio to move faster, we have to reduce this personal income tax," the Republican recently told business leaders.

Kasich, who faces re-election this year, said he also expects more work to be done on a tax rate hike on oil and gas drillers.

One measure, which is co-sponsored by Batchelder, would raise the severance tax rate on horizontally drilled wells by 1 percent for the first five years of production, then 2 percent after that while rolling back similar taxes on traditional wells.

"It's not enough, and I've already told them that," Kasich told reporters in December. "It's not acceptable."



Measures to change voting rules in the perennial battleground state are pending in both chambers of the Legislature.

One bill passed by the Senate would eliminate so-called golden week, the time when Ohioans can register to vote and cast an early ballot before Election Day. Another puts limits on when unsolicited absentee ballot material can be sent to voters and who can send them. That measure would allow the secretary of state to mail absentee ballot applications for general elections if the Legislature sets aside money for it. The state's top election official, a Republican, also has urged lawmakers to pass a bill that would let residents register to vote online.



Kasich and Republican leaders are backing a plan to renew a public works program that funds improvements to roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs. The resolution in the Senate would ask voters to approve a 10-year renewal of the program. The plan would increase the bond funding levels to $175 million annually for the first five years and then $200 million each year for the remaining five years. Senate supporters say their goal is for the measure to clear the Legislature by the end of January so it could appear on May ballots.



The Republican-controlled Senate will decide whether to take up an expansive gun measure that includes a "stand your ground" self-defense proposal. The bill would expand the circumstances in which Ohioans could use force to defend themselves without having a duty to first retreat from an attacker. The GOP-led House has already passed the measure. Debate over such measures has increased among states following George Zimmerman's acquittal in the 2012 Florida shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.