5 State Government Topics Ohioans Should Watch for in 2016

Kegler Brown Government Affairs Update

1. Maneuvering for Ohio’s Top Spots

So long as Governor John Kasich remains as a candidate for President or Vice President, statewide Republicans will accelerate their maneuvering for the 2018 Governor’s race. A successful Republican presidential ticket that includes Kasich would slide Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor into the top spot, and she's already said she's "seriously considering" a run for the office. A prospective two-year head start won't dissuade rumored hopefuls such as Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, who each continue to drum up media attention. DeWine's attack on Planned Parenthood and Husted's poll worker changes following Hamilton County glitches are signs of what's to come.

Former Governor Ted Strickland’s bid to unseat U.S. Senator Rob Portman gives Democrats a realistic hope for capturing another non-judicial statewide office, the sole other currently held by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. Early polling suggests that this race will go to the wire. Barring some unpredictable turn of events, Strickland's election and securing a Hillary Clinton presidency will remain their top priorities. (My omission of a Democratic option for governor at this stage was not an accident.)

Look for several other names to emerge as viable options for the other offices. Frequent elections bills sponsored by Representative Kathleen Clyde or Senator Frank LaRose point each in the direction of the Secretary of State, while many wonder what current Senate President Keith Faber will decide to do after his Presidential term and likely return for a term in the Ohio House.

2. Gaming Laws

If you’re an avid sports fan, you may be tired of seeing the relentless commercials for daily fantasy sports, but there will be legislation. The daily fantasy sports operators have dispatched dozens of lobbyists nationwide seeking to preempt another Nevada, Illinois or New York problem -- being deemed illegal gambling under state law. The Ohio General Assembly has given the Casino Control Commission rule-making and enforcement authority over skill games (i.e., non-casino and non-lottery games), but our Attorney General and others have sought additional direction from the legislature because there’s still uncertainty in the law.

Ohio’s Joint Legislative Committee on Gaming and Wagering has recommended activity on the topic, and has also suggested a close look at tax free promotional spending by casinos and potentially overseeing games like Queen of Hearts, which has reportedly generated jackpots of more than $1 million without regulation.

3. Medical Marijuana

It won’t go away. Look for a legislative task force – something that should have been formed years ago – and another citizen-initiated reform process. The failed attempt for a cartel and full legalization did have the effect of forcing the legislature to respond to the continued non-economic arguments about medical benefits of cannabis. The easiest way out is to start a task force that will give a recommendation. That buys some more time.

4. A Capital Budget Bill

In Ohio, we have to build stuff. The legislative leaders and governor have announced plans for a capital budget in 2016 and organizations have been contacting their regional delegations for weeks, making this more of an announcement than a prediction. Legislators will have more influence this time around, however, after numerous complaints that the last few capital budgets were dominated by the Governor's favorite projects.

5. Unemployment Compensation Bill

The state borrowed millions from the Federal Government at the height of the recession to extend payments to Ohio's then-unemployed, and employers have been paying higher premiums ever since. The state's debt to the Feds ballooned to more than $1.5 billion within the last two years. Look for a current house bill that cuts benefits and employer premiums to gain momentum and find its way to the Governor's desk before the end of 2016.