April 24, 2014

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Dems want to end lame-duck sessions

COLUMBUS — Minority Democrats in the Ohio House want to put an end to what they see as the mischief lawmakers cause just after elections, when lawmakers rush to vote on bills knowing they won’t have to face voters for another two years.

The proposed constitutional amendment would stop lame-duck sessions after a general election in even-numbered years.
Majority Republicans, though, call the idea “silly.”

After the 2000 general election, lawmakers gave themselves a pay raise. In December 2004, they quadrupled the amount they could accept in campaign contributions.

Last year, Republicans lost seven seats in the House and one in the Senate but kept majorities in both chambers. Between the Nov. 7 election and the end of the legislative session on Dec. 26, lawmakers blocked lawsuits against companies that made lead paint, capped damages in consumer-protection lawsuits and increased high-school graduation requirements.

All were passed before Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland — and his veto power — took office.

Two House Democrats say it’s time to put an end to the post-election rush, when debate and voting often turn into all nighters.

“When I was first elected, my biggest shock was the lame-duck session,” said Rep. Todd Book of Portsmouth, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. “There was so much going through at such a rapid pace, it was a circus atmosphere.”

Lame-duck sessions are usually busy, with the election over and many members not having to face voters again. Term limits give House members four possible two-year terms and senators two-four year terms. Each odd-year January starts a new two-year session.

Book said 27 percent of all bills passed during the 2005-06 General Assembly were approved during the lame-duck session. The figure was 30 percent in 2003-04.

Rep. Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, the No. 3 House Democrat, said Ohio is one of a few states, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York, that routinely hold lame-duck sessions.

Driehaus and Book’s constitutional amendment, if approved by the Legislature and the voters, would allow the governor or legislative leaders to call a special session if needed.

“It is about elected officials being held accountable for their actions at the polls,” Driehaus said. “We shouldn’t be acting in the dark after Election Day.”

Republicans, who have controlled both houses of the Legislature for 13 years, are not enthusiastic. They see it as a response to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling Aug. 1 that threw out Strickland’s veto of the lead paint law. The court said his first day in office came too late to veto that particular bill.

“The concept of ending a General Assembly early seems a little silly,” said Karen Tabor, spokeswoman for House Speaker Jon

Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican. “It seems like a sour-grapes reaction to a Supreme Court decision on a bill that was enacted lawfully.”