Monday, November 27, 2000

Advocates of Ohio bill face hurdles

By Cindi Andrews and Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A bill that would give unincorporated areas a stronger voice on annexation is being held up in the Ohio House as the clock ticks away on the 2000 General Assembly.

        Senate Bill 289, the first major rewrite of the state's municipal annexation law in 35 years, cleared a huge hurdle in September by passing in the Senate (27-6) and moving to the House.

        The bill would give commissioners in Ohio's 88 counties more leeway to consider unincorporated townships when voting on whether to approve annexations by cities. The bill also would give townships a share of taxes to ease the loss of land and make single-owner annexations easier.

        Current law compels county commissioners to approve a city's proposed annexation if:

        • A majority of property owners wants it.

        • The area is contiguous to the city.

        • The area is not “unreasonably large” and the area would receive some benefit through annexation.

        Getting the measure through the Senate took intense wrangling. Now, the bill is stalled in the House, which routinely has passed annexation laws in previous years.

        Senate President Richard Finan is frustrated.

        “We've been pushing them, but I don't know,” the Evendale Republican said. “I just haven't seen any big push. We had spent so much time on it, and it was compromise, compromise, compromise.”

        All of that effort was threatened this month when House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, a Reynoldsburg Republican, weighed in with changes she wants to the Senate version.

        The lame-duck General Assembly will meet for just three to six more days when it reconvenes Dec. 5, and the new issues — though minor — might not be resolved in time. If that happens, lawmakers will have to start from scratch in 2001.

        State Rep. Bob Schuler, R-Sycamore Township, put the bill's chances of passage at 80 percent to 90 percent early last week, but his optimism waned as the week wore on. He now estimates the odds of passage at 60 percent, adding that “some might say 40 percent.”

        Mr. Schuler's new best-case outlook: The local government committee holds a special meeting next week or Dec. 4 — before the General Assembly goes back to work — to approve the bill.

        It would then move on to the rules committee Dec. 5, get a full House vote Dec. 6 and go back to the Senate for concurrence Dec. 7. Gov. Bob Taft would then have 10 days to sign the bill into law.


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