Some Say Ohio Statehouse’s Political Process Is As Flawed As The U.S. Capitol

Apr 25, 2014

Many political pundits and lawmakers themselves say Washington is broken these days. Legislation is often mired in politics and few meaningful bipartisan bills are being passed. 

As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, some question whether the Ohio legislature is taking a page from Washington’s playbook.

When you learned about the legislative process you learned about in elementary school, you might have only gotten half of the story.  Political dramas like the West Wing, Scandal and the popular Netflix series, House of Cards, show you a seedier side of politics courtesy of characters like the fictional Frank Underwood.

Sound from House of Cards - I keep things moving in a congress choked by pettiness and lassitude.  My job is to clear the pipes and keep the sludge moving.  But I won’t have to be a plumber much longer.  I’ve done my time and backed the right man (applause fade under)

The Ohio Statehouse is about 400 miles away from the U.S. Capitol building and what goes on there is very different.  But some state lawmakers themselves are questioning whether Ohio’s political process is beginning to look as flawed.  Republican State Representative Terry Boose, a member of the G O P dominated Ohio House, recently made that comparison when speaking about that chamber’s process for developing the Governor’s budget update - which included four pages of additions to the bill just two days before the vote on it.

Boose - As a matter of fact, what some people have told me, constituents when I talk about this process is, you know what guys…you are getting a lot closer to Washington D. C. You know, we are making these controversial quick moves, we are not talking about them, we are not doing everything and you know, it looks a little bit like Washington.

Democrats, such as Representative Denise Driehaus, agree the process is flawed.  She took issue with the controversial legislation that was attached at the last minute.  It allows foreign corporations the opportunity to put more money into Ohio’s political campaigns.

Driehaus – Most of the people that I talked to in that day and a half or so before the bill had came to the floor to the vote didn’t seem to know this was even happening in the bill.  I spoke with a bunch of members of the majority caucus and said…what are you doing, why is this in here?  And people told me that it had not been discussed in their caucus and they were not aware it was in here at that point.

This isn’t the first time legislation has been attached to a bill at the last minute without having time for formal debate.  Last year, the Ohio House attached some controversial abortion provisions to the budget bill in the last days of the process.  But this isn’t the standard process.  Usually, a bill has a sponsor.  Usually, a bill gets hearings so people can ask questions and make comments.  But Maurice Thompson with the conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law says it’s not uncommon anymore for un-vetted legislation to be attached to big bills.  He says that’s unconstitutional because it violates the single subject law.

Thompson - The problem we have is getting the Ohio Supreme Court to actually enforce the Ohio Constitution.  They are very eager many times to defer to the legislature and characterize completely different items as all related to the same subject in a very broad sweeping and umbrella sort of way that is clearly not what the people who drafted our constitution intended.

Thompson is backing a case in the courts right now that questions whether a prison privatization decision is valid since it was attached to another big bill.  Ohio Common Causes Catherine Turcer says lawmakers have become pretty good lately at figuring out how to pass controversial legislation without having to actually be a sponsor for it.

Turcer – That’s exactly why no one puts their names on it.  Because if you put your name on it, you are responsible for managing it, you are responsible for defending it and at the end of the day, you might be targeted when it comes to elections.

Turcer says voters are the big losers in this process. But if the public loses out when legislation is passed in this way, why aren’t voters speaking out on the issue?

Turcer – They aren’t down here with pitchforks because this is the kind of inside baseball that they might be aware of.

Some lawmakers will say privately that this has been going on for several years, but has gotten attention fairly recently because of these high-profile additions and changes. Others think the only thing that will make a difference is redistricting reform so lawmakers do not end up in so called safe districts.