Capital News: It's time to shorten lawmaker goodbye speeches in Ohio Statehouse

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- I suppose we should turn our attention, for a moment, to the self-aggrandizement that takes place at the Statehouse during the waning days of each general assembly.

I refer to the hours lawmakers spend saying goodbye to those departing the chambers, forced out by term limits or election defeats or exiting of their own accord.

True, our elected officials are public servants who work hard -- the number of bills passed this session is staggering compared to the anemic session of two years ago. Whether you agree with the law changes or not, this is a legislature that got things done.

Lawmakers also have to deal with cynics and skeptics and reporters who are quick to criticize and ridicule but slow to give credit where credit is due. They deserve our respect, and some our admiration.

I'm all for an attaboy or attagirl and a pat on the back for a job well done, but these lengthy and sometimes offensive speeches from the floor are unbecoming.

For every short-and-sweet and fully appropriate farewell, there's an off-color joke about fire hoses or an over-the-top reciting of Dr. Seuss or inappropriate joking about sexual relations with animals.

Minority Leader Armond Budish offered the latter during remarks honoring outgoing Rep. Jay Goyal.

"Perhaps his proudest legislative moment, his crowning achievement, was the crafting and introduction of House Bill 289 … the anti-bestiality bill," Budish said during his floor comments, to chuckles from the other members. "His biggest disappointment in an otherwise stellar legislative career is that the bill has not passed, and the sheep of Ohio have not been adequately protected."

The legislation cited was offered following an incident in Goyal's home district, in which a man was accused of having sexual relations with multiple dogs on multiple occasions. Police found pictures and videos and a journal detailing the events.

I'm sure making quips about sex with animals is funny to our state's fourth-graders, but it's serious stuff for the owners of the pets in question, and it's not something to be making light of on the floor of the Ohio House.

Budish later apologized if anyone took offense at his comments, telling The Plain Dealer through a spokeswoman that animal cruelty is a serious matter.

These lengthy goodbye speeches sometimes end up as roasts of their subjects. The comments may be appreciated by members, but the general public isn't in on many of the jokes.

The latter also probably have a hard time grasping why hours are set aside for goodbyes but there's no time for lawmakers to deal with other issues -- unregulated sweepstakes parlors come immediately to mind.

So here's a suggestion: Limit the speeches to a few minutes each, hand the outgoing members their honorary resolutions and give the honorees short points of personal privilege to say the requisite thank-yous.

And then go have a big blowout party somewhere outside of the legislative chambers, where additional comments can be offered for as long as people care to listen.

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

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