Meeting for the first time in two months following an ugly leadership fight, the Ohio House took action Thursday on 28 bills, including money for new voting machines, pay raises for state workers, updates to child support laws and a ban on forced overtime for nurses.
"I'm glad to have this over with and getting some work done," said Speaker Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, following his first session in the top spot that he won after the House voted 11 times Wednesday.
The House sent 11 bills to Gov. John Kasich for his signature, including one that will provide $114.5 million to help counties pay for new voting machines. Most of Ohio's voting equipment was purchased in 2005 and 2006 with federal money, and it has grown outdated and tougher to repair.
The funding is designed to cover the lowest-cost paper-ballot machines known as optical scan. But counties also can choose to go with more expensive touch-screen machines or hybrid models.
Passage "puts Ohio on track to update its election technology well ahead of the 2020 presidential election," said Secretary of State Jon Husted. "We’ve worked hard in recent years to make Ohio a national leader in elections administration, and the purchase of new voting machines across all 88 counties will help us to continue that effort."
The House also unanimously approved updates to Ohio child support guidelines, which supporters say will allow for more appropriate payments based on a parent's ability to pay.
House Bill 366 updates tables used to calculate payments, creates a standard deduction when a parent has multiple orders, caps the allowable credit for shared child-care expenses at the statewide average, and better takes into account time the child spends with a non-custodial parent.
"Having worked on child support issues for over 20 years, I understand the frustration everyone involved in the process deals with because of the antiquated guidelines," said Rep. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green. "Unfortunately, the attempts in recent years to make these long overdue changes never really progressed."
In other business:
• A multi-faceted bill that includes an 8.5 percent pay raise for non-union state workers is heading to Gov. John Kasich. The raise matches that granted to union workers. The bill also deals with other issues for non-union workers, such as allowing them to sell up to 40 hours of vacation time if the worker has accrued 200 hours.
• The House voted 74-10 for a bill that would prohibit hospitals from forcing nurses to work overtime as a condition of employment. the Ohio Nurses Association said some facilities threaten nurses with termination if they don't work the extra time.
"Too many nurses today are suffering from overwork and burnout," said Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay. "When an exhausted nurse is forced to work unplanned, additional shifts, it puts patients at risk."
House Bill 456 now goes to the Senate.
• Individuals wrongly imprisoned because of the intentional withholding of evidence by prosecutors would be eligible for financial compensation by the state under House Bill 411, which passed the House 75-9.
"In order to truly address the wrong that was done to them, we should compensate wrongfully imprisoned Ohioans," said Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, a joint sponsor of the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
A number of county prosecutors opposed the bill, arguing it would cause confusion, and potentially cost taxpayers up to $20 million paid to those who could not show their innocence by a preponderance of evidence.
• House Bill 433 offers an additional incentive for Ohio veterinarians to offer free spay and neutering services by providing them up to two continuing education credits per biennium. Sponsors say it’s an effort to combat pet overpopulation that, for example, leads to more than 100,000 dogs per year impounded at Ohio’s county-run animal shelters.
• A sales tax exemption bill for oil and gas drilling picked up a Senate amendment that prohibits, for another year, additional fireworks retail stores from opening in Ohio. It is headed to Kasich.