By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director
The politicians will be back this fall doing what politicians do in Columbus. My crystal ball isn’t the clearest, but here is some overview and even a few predictions of what will happen on matters of interest to Ohio Newspaper Association members:
Sales tax expansion: I will be surprised if the idea to place the sales tax on advertising returns this fall. I won’t be surprised if, eventually, Republican leaders take another shot at expanding the sales tax to help lower or even eliminate Ohio’s state income tax. There seems to be little appetite, however, to tax business-to-business transactions, and rightfully so.
Municipal income tax reform: There is a decent chance that some version of House Bill 5 will pass. More compromises have been made to calm down local government groups, though I doubt that this bill ever will be “good enough” for some of them. Ohio has the craziest, hardest-to-follow local income tax requirements in the country, vexing businesses with widely varying rates and rules that vary from city to city. I predict this bill will save time and money for every ONA member and improve the economic development climate in your community if it becomes law. To learn more, click here.
We support the bill by Sen. Shannon Jones, SB 93, that greatly improves the definition of open meetings to include so-called “information-gathering” sessions that are open in many other states. Unfortunately, the prospects for this bill seem dim.
We expect two bills to move that deal with special situations to allow members of a board to attend a meeting by video-conference or teleconference. ONA has worked with legislators and others for more than two years to develop strong standards for such meetings to keep them open and accessible. We consider each request on a case-by-case basis.
There are other pending bills involving open meetings in which we expect sponsors to consider our views and amend. Meanwhile, a new exception to open meetings goes into effect that gives broadly expanded latitude to local governmental bodies to talk about economic development matters in executive session. This seems like a scandal waiting to happen.
We are monitoring a number of bills involving open records and will react quickly should any of them start to move. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a pending bill that expands access to public records. It is a long-term goal of the ONA to improve the definition of public records themselves. That seems to get narrower all the time, and you can’t even discuss if a record should be open if it isn’t legally a public record.
We are particularly concerned about Senate Bill 60, which would remove the last bit of access to concealed carry permits in Ohio. SB 143, a bill regarding criminal records, appears to deny access to any records regarding juveniles being held in adult facilities. We will try to get this fixed if the bill starts moving. Another warning sign: We continue to hear concerns from government groups about the time and cost of dealing with records requests.
Many state press associations have had to defeat recent efforts to move public notices from newspapers to government websites. We have not seen much of this in the past two years. The only pending bills that affect notices are minor adjustments.
We would like to see a public notice requirement for new oil and gas drilling permits, at least on public lands, and for the creation or expansion of wastewater disposal wells. Given the influence of the oil and gas industry, this seems unlikely short of some type of accident that creates a public outcry.
We also are working on an effort to have our popular website for notices, PublicNoticesOhio.com, replace the state-run website as the “official” site for notices in Ohio. I hope to have much more to say about that in the coming months.
As always, ONA members can view our Legislative Watch List in the “members only” area of OhioNews.org.