COLUMBUS -- An Ohio Senate panel amended legislation March 20 setting nearly $8 billion in spending over the next two fiscal years for the Ohio Department of Transportation and several other state agencies.
The Senate's Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee plans additional changes today, with a floor vote expected March 22. Committee Chairman Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) told reporters March 20 that he expected subsequent conference committee deliberations -- negotiations between the Ohio House and Senate to settle differences in versions of the bill passed by each chamber -- to be completed next week, assuring the provisions in the legislation are signed by April 1 and take effect by July 1.
Among other changes, the Senate committee has proposed diverting $48 million in motor fuel tax receipts to local bridge and road projects, via the Public Works Commission's Local Transportation Improvement Program.
"That was a priority for us, to try to make sure that our local government partners had the resources or at least that they had some additional resources to do the work that they need to do to safely maintain the roads," LaRose said.
The amended legislation also would require counties to seek voter approval to impose an additional $5 local vehicle registration feee, rather than allowing commissioners to attempt to move the increase on their own.
"Right now, counties can levy up to a $20 per license plate fee that comes back to that county for road and bridge infrastructure improvement," LaRose said. "The House included language that increased that by $5 permissibly at the discretion [of county officials]. What we did is made that subject to a vote of the people, and so the counties would still have the ability to raise that additional $5 fee, but they would have to take it in front of the voters to get permission to do that."
Additionally, senators removed language passed by the House making a failure to display a front license plate on a parked car a secondary offense.
"We hear strongly from law enforcement that having license plates on both the front and back of a vehicle is important for them," LaRose said. "The decision was made that to make this a secondary offense sends a mixed message."
Other amendments added by senators Monday would:
Allow "low-speed vehicles to use public roads when traveling from one farm to another for agricultural purposes when displaying a triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem."
Remove language creating a pilot project in Stark and several other counties to reduce the cost of commercial vehicle registrations, instead establishing incentives statewide for trucking companies that choose to register their vehicles in the state.
Require "at least $33 million" in each fiscal year to be spent on public transit programs.
Remove language in the House version of the transportation budget that would have allowed boaters to keep track of water skiers using a rearview mirror, rather than having an additional person onboard for that purpose.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.