Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Proposed budget bill would shield lawmakers, staffs


Legislators pushing for court immunity

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.

BUDGET CHANGES
   Some changes Senate Republicans made Tuesday to a proposed $44.9 billion two-year state budget.
   • Higher education: Senate Republicans restored $14 million to a program intended to help keep tuition rates down at public universities by taking the money instead from other state university funds. The program had been cut $27 million in the House.
   • New computers: Senators removed $50 million in rainy-day funds state agencies hoped to tap for computer upgrades.
   • Bicentennial celebration: A $30 million celebration fund, reduced to $12 million by the House, is cut to $8 million by the Senate.
   • Teen jobs: Erases $16 million House lawmakers set aside for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a group that offers jobs to troubled teen-agers.
   • Ohio Reads: Cuts funding for Gov. Bob Taft's volunteer literacy program by $1.9 million.
        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 the Supreme Court was wrong to order the General Assembly to give up those documents. He 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.

       The measure would let schools count families that receive food stamps, Medicaid, state health insurance for children in addition to families on the state welfare rolls.

        It was not clear how much more money this would provide for schools that educate large numbers of impoverished children.

               



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