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Medina County's state legislators review 2015 accomplishments

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    Larry Obhof

    MG

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Medina County’s state legislators are looking back at legislation in 2015 — including the passage of the state budget — and forward to the goals in the new year.

Reps. David Hall, R-Millersburg, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, as well as Sen. Larry Obhof, R-Montville Township, were interviewed by The Gazette about their contributions to the last legislative year.

Rep. David Hall

Hall is entering his eighth year in the Ohio House, his final year because of term limits. Representatives cannot serve more than two, consecutive four-year terms.

Much of the year was dedicated to the passage of the two-year $131.6 billion budget that will carry the state’s operations until summer 2017, he said. He expects next year the House will undertake a mid-budget review bill and possibly a capital improvement bill to put funds toward museums, parks and the arts.

But even with the budget considerations, he said he has had time to work on his own bills, including the Lake Erie water quality bill. The bill was passed through the House and combined into Senate Bill 1, which was passed last spring, he said.

“This bill allows, especially down the road, making the water of Lake Erie a lot healthier,” Hall said.

He said his conversations with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency while drafting the bill gave him ideas for other water quality bills, which he plans to work on this year.

“I found out each watershed throughout the state has its own issues,” he said.

Hall, who represents the 70thHouse District, was also a primary sponsor on the companion animal bill, which increases penalties for animal abuse. The House passed the bill last summer, moving it on to the Senate.

Hall said he also is working on a clean energy bill promoting compressed natural gas in vehicles, a bill aimed at stopping human trafficking and the “Down syndrome” bill. The latter bill, which is still in the House, would ban women from having abortions to avoid having a child with Down syndrome.

“If someone has a chromosome that could potentially have Down syndrome, they could see you might need to abort that baby,” Hall said.

Hall said he has been listening to testimonies from women who were told their children would have Down syndrome, but were born healthy.

“I have about 11 months to get these bills passed,” he said, referring to both the end of his term and the conclusion of the 131st General Assembly in December.

Rep. Steve Hambley

Hambley, a former Medina County commissioner who just finished his first full year in the House, also pointed to passage of the Ohio budget as one of 2015’s most significant legislative accomplishments.

The budget increased funding for primary and secondary education by $850 million while making $1.9 billion in tax cuts, largely by reducing income tax, he said.

Last year, Hambley said he was the primary sponsor on the Ohio Family Trust Act, which passed through the House and went to the Senate. The bill would allow the formation of family trust companies, meaning families could control inheritance through trusts established in Ohio instead of out of state.

“If you have a family farm that costs millions, it can stay within the family,” Hambley said. “Banks can be a part of the board, but essentially the family controls (the trust).”

Hambley, one of about 80 co-sponsors, said he also worked on a bill to increase the distribution of epinephrine injectors, or Epipens, used to manage allergic reactions in emergency situations. The bill, which passed the House and is still in the Senate, would allow the pens to be stored in public locations such as daycare centers and colleges.

“Having those available in more public locations — that’s just promoting safety,” he said.

Hambley also introduced two bills aimed at reforming township laws, including expanding the jurisdiction of most township police departments to highways and loosening laws requiring the government to go out to bid on small construction projects.

Hambley, who represents the 69thHouse District, also introduced a bill last year to end February special elections.

“This was a savings for local government,” he said. “Your campaign is in the holiday season.”

He is a primary sponsor for the Compact for a Balanced Budget bill, one of many similar state bills around the county calling for the creation of a federal debt limit through a constitutional amendment.

“It uses the power of state government to limit federal funding,” he said. “It’s something to strive for. It has a long way to go.”

The balanced budget bill, as well as the township bills and the special election bill, are still in the House. Hambley said he hopes to have at least the township bills passed through the House before summer.

Sen. Larry Obhof

Obhof, the Senate majority whip since January of 2013, said the Ohio Senate had a productive year and built on accomplishments of the past five years.

“If you look back five years ago, when we were first starting to come out of the recession (2009), from then until today Ohio has made significant strides forward,” he said.

Obhof pointed to the decreased state unemployment rate — from 9.2 percent at the beginning of 2011 to 5.2 percent now — as proof.

“We’ve taken a proactive effort to make Ohio a more attractive place to do business to strengthen Ohio’s economy.”

Obhof said about $5 billion in tax cuts have created the current economic environment.

He said tax cuts have helped small businesses, which is one of the state’s largest economic segments.

Last year Obhof introduced a bill to remove some of the “red tape” involved in starting a small business. The bill reduced start-up fees for new businesses by about 21 percent, he said.

Its companion bill, House Bill 3, was signed into law last summer.

“If you look out over the next five years, Ohio is the cheapest place in the Midwest to start and maintain a new business,” he said.

“For the last set of data available, Ohio was on pace to set a record for most new business filings in the state’s history,” he added.

As of November, the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office reported there were 90,446 new businesses that had filed to start operations in Ohio. For the same period in 2014, the total was 86,334 new business filings.

Obhof is also a primary sponsor of a bill aimed at attracting corporations to Ohio. The bill passed in Senate and is now in the House.

“One of the things that I’ve tried to do over the last few years is look at states that traditionally have been better at attracting businesses … and ask what are they doing differently that we could be doing here,” he said.

As a member of the Senate’s criminal justice committee, Obhof said he has been working to reform Ohio’s criminal code.

“We’re taking a top-down look at the entire Ohio criminal code,” he said.

He said he helped to draft and co-sponsored a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on rape cases. The bill passed in the Senate.

“I think if you’re a rapist, you shouldn’t be able to get off just by passage of time,” he said.

Obhof also highlighted the use of heroin as one of the major issues facing Ohio and Medina County. He said last year, family members of addicts have been granted access to Narcan, a heroin antidote, and Gov. John Kasich implemented a program called Start Talking! — an anti-drug initiative for children.

Legislators also introduced what was called the Good Samaritan bill to the House last summer, which would exempt someone from drug charges if he or she called to report someone who is overdosing.

Obhof said he works with law enforcement during budget meetings in an attempt to make sure they have the financial resources to catch heroin-related crimes.

“It’s a complex problem that needs to be tackled on a lot of different sides,” he said.

While Obhof said he works on legislation that applies to the entire state, he said much of it also addresses the challenges of his own district — the 22nd District, which covers the counties of Medina, Ashland and Richland and part of Holmes.

“I think the 22nd District is a pretty good microcosm of the state of Ohio,” he said. “What’s good for Ohio overall is also good for the district.”

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