Senate set to vote on $71B Ohio budget with abortion limits


COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the second consecutive session, Ohio lawmakers are making seemingly little changes to the state budget with large consequences for abortion providers.

Two last-minute amendments to a $71.3 billion, two-year budget bill poised for Senate passage Thursday could force abortion clinics in Toledo and Dayton to close.

The amendments were among dozens of changes made by the Senate, which also included restrictions on collective bargaining rights for certain home-health and child-care workers.

The voluminous budget proposal is expected to clear the Republican-dominated Senate and head into compromise talks Friday on key sticking points, such as the size of income tax cuts, state funding for public schools and a host of other areas where there is disagreement among the House, Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Kasich faces a June 30 deadline to sign it into law.

The Senate spending plan maintains many of the House’s tax changes in the bill, including a 6.3 percent cut to the state income tax.

Senators added a proposal to eliminate taxes on the first $250,000 in business income and cap the tax rate on amounts above $250,000 at around 3 percent. They also upped the cigarette tax from $1.25 to $1.65 a pack. Their plan also restores Medicaid health coverage for certain pregnant women and women with breast and cervical cancer, increases higher education funding by $240 million and freezes tuition at public colleges and universities for two years.

It was unclear how the abortion-related changes would fair during compromise talks.

One of the amendments requires a “local” hospital used for emergency patient transfers to be within 30 miles. Toledo’s clinic uses one 50 miles away. Under another change, clinics have two months to obtain state permission to operate without a patient-transfer agreement or must close. Women’s Med in Dayton’s request for such a variance to the requirement has been pending for two years.

An Associated Press analysis last month found seven of Ohio’s 16 abortion facilities have closed or curtailed abortion offerings since 2011. Some attributed closures to transfer-agreement requirements that were inserted into the previous operating budget, passed in June 2013. The AP further found that neighboring Michigan was one of only two states nationally to see a rise in abortions since 2010, driven in part by woman coming from Ohio since restrictions on the procedure were imposed.

Before passing the budget bill on Wednesday, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee changed the spending plan to affirm the elimination of collective bargaining rights for independent child care and health care workers under contract with the state. The revision would make permanent an order from Kasich that nixed those workers’ collective bargaining rights and, it seeks to block future governors from allowing these workers to unionize.

One contentious issue has been omitted from the measure. Legislative leaders decided to exclude a proposed tax hike on Ohio oil-and-gas drillers that has been a priority for Kasich. A task force was created to review the issue and come up with a final report by Oct. 1.