JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS — Bills to curb gun violence, improve ballot access, support stable families and address how public schools are funded are among priorities of state Senate Democrats headed into the new session.
Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney, of Cincinnati, said at a Tuesday unveiling that the fact his 10 members are the first legislative caucus to announce their policy priorities shows they’re “ready to work” and put aside partisan differences.
“It’s always best to work with people when you can and only fight with people when you have to,” said Kearney’s No. 2, Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Republican Senate President Keith Faber said senators of both parties want to improve Ohio’s economy and will work together on that.
“I’m sure we’ll find areas of disagreement along the way, but I’m committed to making sure that all points of view are considered in the development of our policy initiatives,” Faber said in a statement.
Kearney said Democrats are working to craft a proposal to reduce gun-related tragedies, a particular focus following last month’s Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six school administrators before committing suicide.
He said whether the bill recommends an assault weapons ban will depend on input Sen. Shirley Smith, of Cleveland, is gathering from a host of interest groups on all sides of the issue, including gun rights groups.
Kearney said debate should not be cast as a battle over the right to bear arms.
“I support the Second Amendment of the Constitution, as I do all the other amendments to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” he said. “So that’s not really the issue, in my view.”
The caucus also will propose a bill addressing Ohio election practices that its members saw as suppressing the vote in 2012, including rules for counting provisional ballots and a uniform statewide voting schedule that represented reduced hours in some large counties.
State Sen. Nina Turner, of Cleveland, said the vote is “the great equalizer” and said it was “trampled upon last year” through intimidation and limits to access. She said people “shouldn’t have to jump hurdles to be able to vote.”
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who set the uniform hours, defended the 2012 election process and questioned Democrats’ allegations of suppression. He said Ohio residents had more opportunities than ever to vote, including more than five weeks of early voting by mail.
Another Democratic bill will propose phasing down school districts’ reliance on local property taxes as a way to address Ohio’s unconstitutional funding system, eventually requiring districts to kick in no more than 20 mills, or $2,000 for every $100,000 of property value, toward the cost of their schools unless they choose to. Sponsoring Sen. Tom Sawyer said it’s a distribution proposal, not a funding proposal, and could dovetail with “a wide range of funding proposals” that might arise in Republican Gov. John Kasich’s upcoming school funding bill.
State Sen. Charleta Tavares, of Columbus, said she’s proposing creation of a state Family Stability Commission aimed at tackling poverty by keeping more families together. She said two-thirds of black children grow up in single-parent homes, which increases their chances of being poor.
A similar central Ohio commission gathered a host of creative ideas, including charging less for a marriage license for those who receive pre-marital counseling and 30-day timeouts before a divorce.
“The marriage contract,” Tavares said, “should be at least as difficult to break as a contract for lawn services.”
Sen. Edna Brown, of Dayton, said she’s got a bill giving school buildings with 50 percent of children or more receiving free and reduced-price lunches the option of opening year-round as summer feeding sites.
Requiring all Ohio public colleges and universities to offer opportunities for course credit to military veterans for service experiences, such as being a medic or pilot, is another proposal Democrats will bring forward.