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Payday Lending Scandal And Reform Dominated Ohio Legislature In 2018

Supporters of a bill that reform payday lending gather at the Ohio Statehouse.
Andy Chow
/
Ohio Public Radio

Controversial bills involving abortion, gun rights and pay raises for elected officials passed by lawmakers during the lame duck session. Some might be vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, and the legislature might come back after Christmas to override them.

These proposed laws are just a few of the more than 400 bills introduced this year, and just over 70 have been signed into law.

The year started and is ending with a controversy over leadership in the Ohio House. Former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger resigned in the spring amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders.

Current speaker Ryan Smith and supporters of former speaker Larry Householder battled it out to replace Rosenberger for the rest of the year, as most Democrats refused to side with any Republican. In June, after 11 rounds of voting, Smith won.

That battle between Householder and Smith continues into the new General Assembly in 2019, with neither having a majority of Republican voters to win the speakership outright.

In the spring, a bill on payday lenders had been languishing, but it started moving again after the spotlight landed on Rosenberger. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield), had been pushing for the bill for more than a year, to crack down on interest rates as high as 591 percent. On the House floor in June, Koehler said it would help Ohioans who told him paying back those loans at those rates made it hard to afford basic things like groceries.

“Another customer I met told me that she has paid $200 for four years out of her Social Security check for a $1,200 loan,” Koehler said.

In spite of dire predictions by the industry, payday lenders still operate in Ohio, but the businesses have had to make changes.

Not every legislation this year was controversial. There’s a new bipartisan law on the books that closes some loopholes in Ohio’s domestic violence laws, and allows victims of dating violence to get civil protection orders.

Victims of violence will also get more protection through Judy’s Law, named for Judy Malinowski of Columbus, who was doused with gasoline and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2015. She never left the hospital and died in June, just hours before state lawmakers passed the bill, which adds up to six years to terms of criminals who use accelerants in attacking their victims.

As he signed the measure into law, Gov. John Kasich said more could be done.

“Maybe there’s more we can do to think about how we can provide a safe haven, not just a safe haven but a wonderful haven and incubator to grow women into all they can be because without them, we are missing," Kasich said. "We just don’t have it. We are not complete.”

Lawmakers hoped to make Ohio’s roads safer when they expanded Ohio's texting-while-driving ban to include any form of distracted driving - from talking on the phone to applying makeup. It’s a secondary offense now, so police who pull over motorists for a traffic violation could give them an additional ticket.

Puppies got a little more protection, too, when lawmakers passed a bill that cracked down on puppy mills. Legislators also had a bone to pick with a health department code that wouldn’t allow restaurants in Ohio to permit pups on their patios. State Sen. Bill Coley (R-Cincinnati) sponsored the Senate version of the bill to change that.

“Why should a health department get to be onerous and just say, ‘No, no, nowhere in my jurisdiction, in my thiefdom, shall there be a dog?’ What the heck!” he said.

Lawmakers also made a sales tax free weekend during back to school shopping in August permanent.

One big change that both lawmakers and voters approved is a new bipartisan Congressional redistricting plan that passed in May. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger promised to do shots with Kasich if it passed – and he did.

“It was so unbelievable that I said, ‘I’m going to come there to your capitol with schnapps, Austrian schnapps, and we are going to celebrate this,” Schwartzenegger said.

As the new General Assembly comes in, the battle over leadership in the Ohio House continues. That fight might be round one and new lawmakers might find themselves in the middle of it on day one, if not before.