Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Budget bill would shield lawmakers

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The most controversial part of the General Assembly's proposed $44.9 billion budget would shield lawmakers and their staff from being sued, forced to testify or give up internal documents to a subpoena.

        “I don't think legislators and staff should be subject to depositions,” Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, said of the measure, slipped into the two-year spending plan last week.

        A Senate committee was preparing to pass the budget bill Tuesday night. The full Senate could vote on the plan as early as today, setting up a final round of negotiations with the House.

        Majority Republicans are scrambling to pass the budget and a proposed $1.4 billion school funding reform plan before a court-imposed June 15 deadline to reduce funding gaps between rich and poor schools.

        The court immunity idea emerged a week after the high court ordered lawmakers to give up privately held school-funding documents to a coalition of schools suing the state. Lawmakers and staff will obey the order, Mr. Finan said, but his measure could block similar future orders.

        Mr. Finan said courts should examine the bills, laws and transcripts from public debates to determine legislative intent.

        “Those (internal) records have nothing to do with what we do in the law,” he said.

        Democrats and school officials say Republicans are trying to cover up information that could have led to a better funding plan.

        The budget plan also includes:

        • $1 million to help fund religious group programs that benefit Ohio's poor and homeless.

        • An amendment that would let school districts increase money they get from the state to help students from poor families.


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