COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House plans to broadcast committee hearings dealing with the state budget and potentially other issues, the Republican leader of the chamber said Monday during opening ceremonies of the new general assembly.
The change would mark the first time the legislative panels have been recorded and made available online and via public access stations by the chamber, providing Ohioans with opportunities to hear debates on state spending, tax reform and school funding -- all issues that are expected to be tackled in coming months.
"At this point in time, we're not planning to [broadcast] everything," said House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina. "But we are planning to do quite a bit of it."
Batchelder made the announcement in his opening speech to the 130th General Assembly, the first session day for the Ohio House and Senate, with new and returning members taking their oaths of office and leaders elected.
Batchelder retained his spot as leader of the House, while Sen. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, was named president of the Senate, replacing outgoing-Sen. Tom Niehaus.
Both Batchelder and Faber made it clear that jobs and economic issues were the chambers' top priorities.
"The task before this body over the next two years is huge," Batchelder said. "Slowing down is not an option."
Faber added, "Ohio is doing better right now than the national average on all the unemployment numbers, but better just isn't good enough. … We can still do better for Ohioans, and that's the focus."
Both chambers begin the new session with lopsided Republican majorities -- 60 GOP members out of 99 total in the House and 23 Republicans in the 33-member Senate.
Though simple majorities are needed to pass most legislation, the super majorities mean Republican leaders could move ballot initiatives and overturn vetoes from the governor without having to gain Democratic support.
(The Republican margin in the House is being challenged, with Democrats hoping to unseat Rep. Al Landis, a Republican representing Tuscarawas County and part of Holmes County. Landis won reelection by eight votes and took the oath of office Monday.)
But Batchelder and Faber indicated the would seek bipartisan cooperation during the coming months.
"Ohio is and should be a shining example that our politics are not defined by our differences but by our similarities and our common cause in the support of working people in this state," Batchelder said. "Only by first establishing our common ground can we begin to move forward again in enacting policies that will improve the health, well being and prosperity of all Ohioans."
Faber added, "This is not a moment for political rhetoric or policy announcements. It is a challenge to rise above the division and discord that defines so much of politics today, particularly politics in Washington, D.C., to set a new standard towards leadership. ... Today, myself and my colleagues in the Republican caucus are extending to [Senate Democrats] an olive branch of cooperation. We look forward to working with you and doing good things together for Ohio."
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will remain regular session days, with start times for the two chambers staggered by an hour or more.
The Ohio Senate will have 17 committees and three finance subcommittees, the latter to address the next two-year budget expected to be unveiled by Gov. John Kasich in coming weeks and passed by the legislature before the summer recess.
House and Senate committee hearings already are open to the public, and credentialed media are allowed to tape the sessions for broadcast, but neither chamber to date has spearheaded efforts to provide such coverage of committees.
Batchelder said broadcasting finance and other committee hearings will allow "people to delve into the budget process from their own homes or from their mobile device. This alone is an unprecedented step forward in terms of legislative transparency."
Faber said no decisions have been made to broadcast Senate committee hearings.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.