MARC KOVAC: Weighing the good and the bad in omnibus legislation

By Heather Rainone | Managing editor Published:

COLUMBUS -- It must not be very fun to be a Democrat in the Ohio Legislature right now.

They're in the minority -- is there such a thing as super minority? -- without much hope of reversing that status in the Ohio Senate anytime in the near future. That's not meant as a commentary on their ideas, only a statement of the political reality they face.

Though they've voted in favor of more legislation than they have opposed this general assembly, you get the impression that Statehouse Democrats don't have much sway on the bigger bills that generate the most public attention and debate. Their amendments are tabled faster than newspaper reporters at a coffee-and-doughnut buffet.

You could hear the frustration in their voices last week as they spoke out against a few of the mid-biennium budget bills that received final approval in the Ohio House and Senate on mostly party-line votes.

That puts Democrats in an awkward position, because there are provisions in the bills they ultimately voted against that they support and that they likely will want to tout to their constituents.

Take Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown), who has been an outspoken critic of policy decisions of Gov. John Kasich and the Republican majority.

There's a small but notable provision in the main mid-biennium budget bill that he helped to write that will allow certain liquor permit holders to sell "growlers" of beer. The latter are glass containers that hold up to a gallon of liquid.

In a released statement shortly after the budget bill passed, Hagan praised the provision, saying it would help a brewery in his district increase its sales.

"The good folks at Rust Belt Brewing Co. have been a key contributor to the continued revitalization of downtown Youngstown," Hagan said in a released statement. "Rust Belt Brewing Co. has become a staple in Youngstown, representing the pride our region has for both our past and our present. Now, even more residents can enjoy beer from Rust Belt, and they can do so in their comfort of their own homes."

A few minutes later, another statement from Hagan was released, this time blasting the overall budget bill that included the growler provision he helped to write.

"To me, this budget speaks volumes about the priorities of the Republican majority and whose interests they aim to promote," he said. "While the wealthiest among us continue to enjoy tax breaks and favorable economic policies, the GOP continues to add further tax burdens onto working Ohioans who struggle simply to make ends meet. The rich get richer while the middle class continues to suffer."

I asked Hagan about the juxtaposition of the statements afterward, and he relayed a couple of stories from 20-plus years in the legislature. In both cases, he offered amendments that were added to larger bills that he later had to oppose.

A good example was a budget bill that included language naming a highway in honor of his father. That bill included other language that he didn't support, and he voted against it.

"I see that there is some good and there's some bad, but I have to take the total picture and make the decision," he said.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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