Legislators put their finishing touches on the 132nd Ohio General Assembly in December, albeit later than expected as lawmakers held a rare session after the Christmas holiday to override vetoes issued by Governor Kasich. The legislature successfully overrode Governor Kasich’s vetoes of SB 296, which included pay raises for legislators, and HB 228, which dealt with the use of force in self-defense. However, the final session day of the 132nd General Assembly will be best remembered for a failed veto override attempt to HB 258, the controversial “heartbeat bill.” The House successfully overrode the veto; however, the vote failed in the Senate by just one vote.
Looking ahead, there will be some leadership changes in both the House and Senate entering the 133rd General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus will continue to be led by Senate President Larry Obhof. Joining Sen. Obhof in the caucus leadership team will be Sen. Bob Peterson, as president pro tempore, and Sen. Randy Gardner, as majority floor leader. Sen. Matt Huffman was chosen as majority whip to replace term-limited Sen. Gayle Manning. Senate Democrats reelected Sen. Kenny Yuko to lead the caucus. Sen. Cecil Thomas was elected assistant minority leader, Sen. Sean O’Brien was elected as minority whip and Sen. Sandra Williams was chosen to be assistant minority whip. On the House side, Democrats reelected Rep. Fred Strahorn as minority leader. Rep. Emilia Sykes will take over as assistant minority leader. Rounding out the leadership team are Rep. Brigid Kelly as minority whip and Rep. Kent Smith as assistant minority whip. Smith formerly served as the caucus’s policy chair. Questions surrounding the next speaker of the House remain unanswered. While an informal vote by the GOP caucus resulted in current House Speaker Ryan Smith retaining the House’s top spot, the vote was heavily criticized by supporters of Rep. Larry Householder. Those supporters boycotted the vote, leaving Smith with just 34 Republican supporters, significantly shy of the necessary 50 votes. If the caucus cannot come to a consensus before the first organized session on January 7th, then the candidate with the most votes after 11 rounds of voting will become the victor. Similar to how Smith was elected speaker over the summer.
Governor-elect Mike DeWine spent the past month filling open positions in his administration. Laurel Dawson will serve as chief of staff when his administration takes office next year. Dawson served as DeWine’s chief of staff in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. DeWine also announced Mary Mertz, who is currently first assistant attorney general, as his pick to head up the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Mertz oversaw the legal and administrative operations of his office as attorney general and was his chief of staff as lieutenant governor. DeWine also pulled from his attorney general staffers when selecting Kimberly Murnieks as the director of the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). DeWine also selected former state legislator Jeff McClain as his tax commissioner, Matthew Damschroder, current chief of staff for Secretary of State Jon Husted, as director of the Department of Administrative Services, and Thomas Stickrath as the Director of the Department of Public Safety. Additionally, DeWine named long-time lobbyist Dan McCarthy as his legislative director, Michael Hall as his director of policy, and Ryan Burgess as director of cabinet affairs.
As with the most recent General Assembly, the start of next session will be highlighted by the introduction of Governor-elect DeWine’s first biennial operating budget. While hundreds of bills will be introduced during the legislative session, none will impact state government more than the biennial budget bill. DeWine has until March to introduce the bill, and the legislature will spend months debating the measure. Ohio’s Constitution requires that the budget be enacted by June 30th.