2023 Year In Review: Ohio budget with tax cuts and vouchers among few bills approved

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Ohio lawmakers didn’t pass many bills this year. In fact, they moved the fewest number of bills since 1955. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers didn’t make big changes to state law.

2023 began with a nasty but memorable fight over House leadership in which Democrats helped get Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) elected speaker over Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), who Republicans had picked to be speaker a few weeks earlier and most wanted in charge. Since that time, there have been power struggles within the Republican caucus.

You might also remember the protest the erupted over lawmakers putting before voters an amendment to make it harder to pass future constitutional changes to be voted on in August, when lawmakers had eliminated most August special elections a few months earlier. Dennis Williard, a leader with the citizens group that defeated Issue 1 in August, said the victory sent a strong message.

“Tonight was a major victory for democracy in Ohio. The majority still rules in Ohio,” Willard told the audience after the outcome became clear.

But what you won’t remember about 2023 is the passage of a lot of bills.

Budget among few bills that passed

Only a little more than a dozen bills passed in this year. Now that’s not to say changes weren’t made. It’s just some of the biggest were not stand-alone bills but legislation that was rolled into the $86 billion-dollar, two-year state budget that Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) described this way:

“It’s not a normal budget and by that I mean there are real innovation, changes to the way we do things, changes to the way that we fund public expenditures,” Huffman said.

As with other budgets in recent years, this one contained tax cuts of totaling $3 billion. While it gave some tax breaks on baby products and for those saving for homes, the bulk of the tax cuts eliminated commercial activity taxes for about 90% of businesses and flattened of personal income tax to mainly benefit those making more than $100,000 a year – which was noted by Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).

“It cuts taxes for the wealthy and shifts the burden to everyday Ohioans,” Antonio said.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes ushered in by the budget was universal vouchers, so now all Ohio students can get public money for private school, even those who’ve never attended public schools. Another big change in education in the budget takes academic policy decisions away from the state school board and its majority of elected members and puts that power with a reorganized and renamed cabinet level agency under the governor’s control. A lawsuit challenging the creation of the Department of Education and Workforce continues, though Steve Dackin has been confirmed as Gov. Mike DeWine’s director of DEW. Dackin had served for 11 days as state school superintendent in June 22; he resigned because of questions about access he had to material submitted by other superintendent applicants. He signed a settlement agreement with the Ohio Ethics Commission in October 2022, admitting that he potentially violated state ethics laws.

One bill that passed could be signed soon

Most of the stand-alone bills that did pass one chamber or another were to honor someone, remember someone, dedicate something or urge Congress to do something. But Ohio lawmakers did pass what’s known as the “Scouts’ Honor” Law. It gives victims of past sex abuse the opportunity to collect damages by extending the statute of limitations.

And earlier this month, the legislature passed a combined and controversial bill to ban gender transition treatment for minors and trans athletes in girls’ sports – an idea that’s been pushed by Republicans for the last few years. House Bill 68 is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Mike DeWine, who has said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll sign it .