COLUMBUS -- Over continued objections from Democratic members, the Ohio House okayed the first part of Gov. John Kasich's mid-biennium budget package Wednesday, sending it to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
House Bill 483 is one of more than a dozen bills containing law and policy changes initially proposed by the governor and amended by lawmakers in the House over the past several weeks.
It passed on a mostly party-line vote of 57-33 following a lengthy afternoon debate. Wednesday marked the last scheduled voting session before lawmakers headed out of town for a pre-primary recess.
The bill included numerous law changes affecting an array of state agencies. Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), chairman of the chamber's finance committee, said the legislation is a reflection of the priorities spotlighted by the governor during his State of the State address earlier this year, with proposed policies aimed at helping needy families and children.
"This is about veterans, this is about children," Amstutz said. "This is about our older youth who are looking for a better educational and work force training experience. It is about troubled youth. It is about protecting children ..."
He added, "This bill really isn't about more government. It's about trying to make government work better."
The bill includes increased efforts to provide career advising and mentoring to students, job training for young adults who dropped out of high school, grants for a work force training pilot program and increased services for Ohioans who are addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.
The House removed a number of original and amended provisions, including language related to the state's public notice website and authorizing chiropractors to assess student athletes who have suffered concussions.
A short-lived amendment to penalize counties for sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters - a slap at Cuyahoga County Executive and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald - was removed before the bill hit the floor.
But the final legislation did include a couple of controversial amendments added by Republicans in the House.
One would officially declare that college athletes are not employees of the schools they attend, a preemptive strike against students who pursue forming unions.
Another amendment would void an administrative rule put into place by former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, that regulated certain campaign contributions from union groups and corporations.
"The real point, I think, of this rule, as I understand it, is that it was a rule that was passed without legislative approval," said Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima). "And because we have a series of decisions that are now the law of the land... this issue needs to be revisited by the legislature. ... We have a vague rule. We have, in my mind, an unconstitutional rule."
But opponents said the move would lead to unfettered corporate influence, potentially from overseas, on the state's elections.
"I'm from the Mahoning Valley," said Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown), who opposed the legislation. "I have watched what other countries have done to my area as they have drained the jobs away... and now we sit here with a bill that will allow foreign investment in this process? Contributions coming from somewhere else...? This is the most objectionable part of the legislative process."
Rep. Chris Redfern (R-Catawba Island), added, "It opens up the purchasing of elections at every level."
Democrats attempted a number of amendments, many seeking to reverse law changes and policy decisions implemented by Republicans and the governor.
"We could have addressed and corrected past decisions we've made about cutting local government funds, about cutting library funds, about making college more affordable, about helping people especially in counties that have high unemployment rates, with folks who need food assistance," said Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland).