The top leaders of the General Assembly gathered in one room to talk about their legislative agenda for the coming year. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow was there as the lawmakers discussed the issues they believe to be most pressing in Ohio.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber joined minority leaders Tracy Heard and Joe Schiavoni during a forum hosted by the Associated Press.
Last week the statewide Democratic candidates made it well known that they would make women’s rights a key platform in their campaigns. The legislators were asked about the role the General Assembly has played in crafting bills that address issues like abortion.
Schiavoni thinks the issue has drawn too much attention and believes lawmakers should back off of the issue, while Faber disagrees.
“They’re very divisive issues," Schiavoni said. "They’re very difficult issues. And I don’t think we should be down here trying to tell a woman what she can or cannot do. And we really spend an incredible amount of time on this.”
“I just flat out disagree with Sen. Schiavoni on the fact that we spend a lot of time on this issue," Faber said. "We don't. It gets a lot of the media coverage, but we have passed a whole lot of legislation and the number of issues that we’ve dealt with on the one that gets everyone’s attention -- abortion issues -- are relatively small.”
“We put it in the budget,” Schiavoni said.
“Yeah but the budget was 4,000 pages,” Faber said.
Faber goes on to add that the number one focus has always been job creation. Speaker Batchelder echoed Faber’s comments.
“These issues have not actually received the devoted time that medications, Obamacare -- I could go down a long list of things that took more legislative time than the bills that involve abortion," Batchelder said.
Leader Heard believes the bills dealing with reproductive issues demonstrate a larger problem in the Statehouse: That the General Assembly, she says, spends too much time on polarizing issues that continue to drive the parties away instead of bringing them together.
“In terms of voter suppression issues, when voter fraud is not an indicator," Heard said. "Women’s health issues for sure -- addressing subjects that have already, at least we thought, had been resolved. Gun issues -- certainly divisive. And bringing up concerns that are trying to find solutions to problems that do not exist.”
The talking points from both parties then transitioned into job creation. The leaders shared different statistics that painted two pictures of the economy in Ohio. The Democrats illustrated a state that needs to go in a different direction, while the Republicans said employment continues to grow under Gov. John Kasich’s leadership.
This could be an accurate sample of what’s to come as we move closer to the gubernatorial race.