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Hugs and handshakes at Ohio Statehouse to open new session

Still a few weeks away for Ohio's 132nd General Assembly to begin business

By MARC KOVAC | CAPitaL Bureau Chief Published: January 4, 2017 10:51 AM

COLUMBUS -- There were ample hugs and handshakes and complimentary speeches Jan. 3 as lawmakers returned to the Ohio Statehouse for the official start of the new session.

It was mostly ceremony, though, with oaths of office for new and returning members of the legislature and leaders formally picked by the two chambers.

It'll be a few weeks before the substantive work of the 132nd General Assembly gets under way. In the meantime, here are 10 quick things to know the state legislature and what Ohio's elected officials will be up to during the first half of the new year:

1. The Schedule: Jan. 3 was opening day of the new general assembly, with members of the Ohio House and Senate taking their oaths of office.

Lawmakers won't get down to legislative business right away, however. Committees aren't scheduled to meet until the end of the month. Committee and floor sessions are scheduled over the first six months of the year, with a spring break in April.

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Lawmakers have "if-needed" days on the calendar in July, but they usually finish their initial work by end end of the state fiscal year in June.

More on that later.

2. The Times: Committee and session schedules can be found on the Ohio House and Senate websites, accessible at OhioHouse.gov and OhioSenate.gov, respectively.

Generally speaking, scheduled Senate sessions take place on Tuesday and Wednesdays at 1:30 and Thursdays at 11. House sessions take place on Tuesdays at 11 a.m., Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 1 p.m.

3. Control: There are 99 members of the Ohio House and 33 members of the Ohio Senate.

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Republicans are in firm control of both chambers, with veto-proof majorities in the House (66-33) and Senate (24-9).

Pay attention to those numbers this session, as legislative Republicans and Gov. John Kasich likely will take different approaches to spending plans and policy changes for the coming biennium.

4. Speaking of Budget: The main focus of lawmakers' attention between now and the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 will be the state's biennial operating budget, a massive bit of legislation that will outline $60-some billion in spending authority.

Kasich starts the budget process, sending his two-year spending plan to the legislature by the end of this month. The Ohio House and Senate will spend subsequent months debating and amending the budget bill.

5. Back to Control: Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) returns to the House as its Speaker in the new term, with a leadership team that includes Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) as speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position in the chamber; Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Chesterland) is assistant majority floor leader, and Rep. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) is assistant majority whip.

Sen. Larry Obhof (R-Medina) takes over as president of the Ohio Senate. Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) retains his spot as that chamber's minority leader.

Leaders were announced late last year, but the formal elections of the House Speaker and Senate President and others came during Tuesday's afternoon sessions.

6. New Faces: There are lots of new faces in the legislature, as new members join the Ohio House and Senate.

That list includes Rep. Scott Wiggam, a Republican from the Wooster area who formerly was a Wayne County commissioner. He takes the seat previously occupied by longtime state Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), who was forced out by term limits (and who was since elected as a Wayne County commissioner).

Over in the Ohio Senate, Republican Frank Hoagland unseated incumbent Democratic Sen. Lou Gentile. Hoagland, a retired Navy SEAL and small business owner from Adena, will represent a district that stretches across southeastern Ohio.

7. Returning Faces: There's a bunch of lawmakers who are returning the legislature but in different chambers.

That list includes former Reps. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), Sean O'Brien (D-Bazetta) and Lou Terhar (R-Cincinnati) in the Ohio Senate and former Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) and former Sens. Thomas Patton (R-Cleveland), Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) in the Ohio House.

Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) and Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who served in the legislature in the past, return after being elected to seats in the Ohio Senate.

And former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) makes his return to that chamber.

8. Pay: Lawmaker earn more than $60,500 annually, with extra payments for serving in leadership in their chambers or on committees.

The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate make more than $94,000, according to the state's Legislative Service Commission.

Members also receive payments to cover travel between their homes and the Statehouse each week of session, according to LSC. There are parking, mailing and other privileges that come with their elected office.

9. The Oaths: Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor administered the oaths of office for Republican members of the Ohio Senate. Judge Terri Jamison, who serves in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, administered the oaths for Democratic senators.

Justice Judith French administered the oaths to all members of the Ohio House, with lawmakers reciting in unison in groups of 11.

There were plenty of personal touches to the day's events. For example, senators' young children and grandchildren took the floor to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Some lawmakers opted to take separate ceremonial oaths.

The newly elected leaders of the two chambers also offered opening comments.

"Today, we each swore an oath," Obhof said. "We did not swear to a political party, to an interest group or to any personal agenda. We work for the people of this state, the people who have given us the awesome task of representing them in these hallowed halls It's our responsibility to represent all of them to the best of our ability."

Rosenberger added that working to address different issues "will require understanding and cooperation from all parties involved with both sides of the aisle bringing their best ideas to the table. We are the leaders who have been called upon here and now to move our state forward and create a better future for Ohio."

10. What's Next? In coming weeks, legislative leaders will release committee assignments -- watch in particular for members named as chairs of those panels and for those named to finance committees in both chambers. Finance committee and subcommittees will play host to biennial budget deliberations.

It won't be too long before lawmakers begin introducing legislation, with the first bills of the session often signaling priority issues. Rosenberger said HB 1, for example, will focus on updating the state's law related to dating violence -- legislation that passed the House but stalled in the Ohio Senate last session.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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