Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Slots, guns still hot-button topics as Legislature breaks for summer

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - When legislation gets pulled from a committee schedule or the House and Senate cannot agree on a bill, that usually is the end of the line.

Not so for two issues: hidden guns and video slot machines.

The Legislature recessed for the summer on June 25 without passing a resolution to authorize voters to decide whether to put slots at Ohio racetracks or completing a bill that would allow Ohioans to carry hidden guns.

The slots issue died in the face of growing opposition from Republicans, who didn't want a prescription drug discount plan tied to the proposal.

The concealed weapons bill died after the House refused to agree to Senate changes that led Gov. Bob Taft to support the bill for the first time.

But don't count on either issue to go away.

Sen. Eric Fingerhut, a Cleveland Democrat, won some support from majority Republicans for a plan to use part of the estimated $500 million a year the slots would raise for the state to give scholarships to the top 5 percent of seniors at Ohio high schools. The $5,000 yearly scholarship would have to be used at an Ohio college.

Opponents such as Sen. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican, believe if slots are approved, it will open the door for other types of casino gambling.

The same week lawmakers were debating that issue, another familiar issue was creating discord - concealed weapons.

The Senate passed its version of a House bill that would allow people 21 and older to buy permits to carry concealed weapons if they passed a background check and completed a safety course. It is the fourth time - dating to 1995 - that a concealed weapons bill has been introduced.

Jordan and Fingerhut are on opposite sides of that fight, too. Jordan, who favored the bill, pointed out that 18 months remain in the current legislative session.

"There is a very realistic chance we can get something passed this session," Jordan said.

Fingerhut said support for the issue is waning.

"The resistance in Ohio indicates how the people of Ohio really don't want it," Fingerhut said. "This is going to be a long-term debate - and even if a bill passes, that doesn't mean the debate is over."

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