Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2013 – 2014 Transition

One last glimpse of the 2013—2014 transition is perhaps in order as introduced by Jeremy Pelzer, Northeast Ohio Media Group in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week.

Pelzer wrote that “for the Ohio General Assembly, 2014 is shaping up to be a year where not only economic items -- from tweaking the state budget to proposed changes to severance and local income taxes -- but a number of other issues including a package of elections bills; and proposed changes to the state's self-defense and gun laws will be at the forefront of their agenda."


Pelzer’s article noted “legislators will be looking at raising state taxes on oil and gas drilling, as well as overhauling Ohio’s municipal income tax system. The oil and gas severance tax legislation, House Bill 375, would raise an estimated $1.7 billion in new revenue during the next 10 years – money to be used to reduce state income taxes, as well as pay for state regulation of drilling and to plug orphaned wells. The oil and gas industry, which helped House Republicans draw up the bill, says they’re willing to pay more in exchange for having stable severance tax rates.”

He also mentions House Bill 5, the long-discussed legislation aimed at standardizing and streamlining parts of the state’s patchwork municipal income tax system to be addressed by the Senate, having passed the House last November. “Business groups have pushed for the changes for years, saying it’s often confusing and costly for companies who do work in multiple cities to comply with all the different tax forms, deadlines and rules,” Pelzer wrote, “but with local governments fighting the bill, saying it would slash their revenues at a time when they’re already reeling from state funding cuts and the end of the tangible personal property tax and estate tax.”

The Plain Dealer article however did not address the Internet sales tax being back on the table with Supreme Court action could mean green light for online add-on, which a article just before the New Year's relating “inaction by Congress and a recent decision by the nation’s highest court have reopened the debate on forcing Internet retailers to collect Ohio’s sales tax did. The U.S. Supreme Court’s declining to hear a case brought by online retailers against the state of New York, which has imposed a tax on Internet sales since 2008,” the article said, “effectively opens the door for other states, including Ohio, to pass legislation requiring every seller in the online commerce realm to collect sales tax from customers in states where they have a physical presence. This would include retailers such as, but it also could include small independent operators who could be overwhelmed by the thousands of taxing districts in the U.S.”

A Washington Post article lastweek notes “Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who remains a panel member’s planning a renewed effort to bar multiple taxes on digital goods and services, offering a revised bill that seeks to overcome objections that stalled a past legislative effort, prohibiting what the effort’s supporters say are discriminatory taxes on music, pictures and other digital goods and services sold over the Internet.” There are no measures here at this point.

'Stand your ground'/ Gun Control

Pelzer’s article also discusses the Ohio Senate’s taking aim at legislation that would make sweeping changes to the state’s concealed-weapons laws, including a so-called “stand your ground” self-defense provision. – again, picking up on HB 203, passed by the Ohio House in November, which would eliminate Ohio's law requiring a person to retreat before using deadly force in self defense. Under current state law, residents have no duty to retreat only when they are in their homes, cars, or the vehicles of immediate family members – a so-called “castle doctrine.” Supporters say the change would reaffirm Ohioans' rights to act in self-defense, but opponents worry that it would lead to more gun deaths. Other parts of the bill are designed to streamline firearm background checks, toughen rules for concealed handgun permits, and expand recognition of Ohio’s conceal-carry permits to other states.

Medicaid and Health Care

We’re all well aware of the launch of the Affordable Care Act and the repercussions there, with articles as recent as a few days ago still reporting problems such as The Washington Post’s yesterday saying “while government officials have spent months scrambling to fix the federal health-care law’s botched rollout, another issue is looming that could create new costly headaches for states, health plans & insurance companies -- and patients – a process commonly called “churning” in Medicaid, created when persons have seasonal jobs or pick up extra hours at certain times of the year, and lose eligibility with those temporary income spikes, only to re-enroll in the state programs when their income again drops. With several million people expected to shift between the health exchanges and Medicaid with these income fluctuates in 2014, that could be costly for states and insurance companies, and patients could wind up having gaps in coverage or having to switch health plans or doctors.

Gov. John Kasich turned to the state’s obscure Controlling Board, made up of six lawmakers and one administration official, for approval after Ohio's GOP-controlled legislature balked on the issue of Medicaid expansion last October, which was unsuccessfully challenged in the Supreme Court before our becoming the 25th. state to come under state-level federal guidelines.[ See Supreme Court's news service article ]

The Ohio House’s 2014 agenda will include a package of bills to reform Medicaid and tackle health-care issues, the Plain Dealer’s article said, including House Bill 317 which would, among other things, streamline Medicaid costs, increase penalties for drug offenses against pregnant women, offer job training for Medicaid recipients, and require the state to give a limited supply of medication to newly released inmates with mental health issues.

“Other measures would give tax deductions for health services at free clinics, set up rules for prescribing narcotics to those with chronic pain, and prohibit the Medicaid program from limiting the number of hours that recipients may receive community addiction and mental health services….. (although) none of the legislation directly addresses the Controlling Board’s controversial decision in October to accept $2.5 billion in federal funds for Medicaid expansion, bypassing legislative objections.

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