Bill would let lawmakers decide fate of many state agencies


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers could more easily do away with state agencies under a bill that recently passed the state Senate.

The proposal would affect departments charged with paving roads, monitoring clean water, regulating dangerous wild animals and funding schools.

Critics of the plan say it’s a risky approach that could create gridlock and allow lawmakers to hold departments “hostage” in political maneuvers. But backers say it seeks to improve accountability and efficiency in state government.

Some questions and answers about the bill:

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HOW MANY DEPARTMENTS WOULD BE AFFECTED?

At least 25 of the departments in the governor’s Cabinet. Those include the departments of health, public safety and taxation, along with the state Environmental Protection Agency. Under the state’s current sunset review law, agencies generally are subject to review, but state departments are not. Lawmakers do examine departments spending and programs while assembling the state’s two-year budget.

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WHEN WOULD THE DEPARTMENTS BE REVIEWED?

It depends on the agency. The schedule outlines a four-year cycle in which certain agencies would be evaluated during even-numbered general assembly, and others would be reviewed during the odd-numbered ones. It’s currently the 131st General Assembly.

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WHAT WOULD THE DEPARTMENTS HAVE TO SHOW?

The review criteria include the department’s primary functions, goals, and objectives; its workload and staffing; sources of funding; and budgets. The agencies also would have to demonstrate a public need for their continued existence and explain how its regulations compare to other states.

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WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THEY ARE EVALUATED?

Lawmakers would get decide whether the departments should be renewed. The bill also sets a schedule for these departments to cease operations if the General Assembly doesn’t renew them.

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WILL THESE REVIEWS COST MONEY?

Yes, but it’s not clear how much. It would depend on the scope of the information that lawmakers want, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.

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WHY DO SUPPORTERS WANT THIS?

Senate President Keith Faber, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, claims it will help improve accountability, efficiency and effectiveness in state government. The Celina Republican argues that it would give the Legislature a more holistic view of what’s happening within a department. He also says the bill’s intent is to “reassert” the Legislature’s authority over the departments.

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WHAT ARE CRITICS SAYING?

Senate Democrats unsuccessfully sought to get the bill sent back to committee. They and others claim the fast-moving bill would let lawmakers hold departments “hostage” in political maneuvers. The president of the largest state employees union criticized the proposal as being “like the state budget process on steroids.”

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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The measure now goes to the House, which is on recess until after the election. The governor’s office declined to comment on the pending legislation.

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The bill is S.B. 329.

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