Panel adds abortion regulations to Ohio budget

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Abortion providers in Ohio would have to inform pregnant women in writing about the presence of a fetal heartbeat before the procedure under a last-minute change slipped into the state budget.

The amendment which also requires providers to say, to the best of their knowledge, the statistical probability of bringing the fetus to term was added Tuesday night by a Republican-dominated, six-member legislative committee.

It would also ban doctors from purposefully performing or inducing an abortion on a pregnant woman before determining the presence of a detectable fetal heartbeat unless there is a medical emergency. They could face criminal penalties for violating the "informed consent" rules.

The abortion regulations were among dozens of revisions to the budget the conference committee passed Tuesday night, as a deadline drew closer to finish the $61.7 billion, two-year spending plan.

State lawmakers face a Sunday deadline to pass the bill. Each chamber of the Legislature still has to sign off on the measure, which was likely to come on Thursday.

The abortion restrictions were added over the objections of the two Democrats on the committee, who cited a lack of hearings on the proposal.

State Rep. Mike Foley, a Cleveland Democrat, accused the Republican majority of "being obsessed with abortion."

The GOP-dominated panel rejected Democratic attempts to get rid of a House-added provision that would send Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for public family-planning money among several other Democratic amendments.

A separate change by the GOP-led panel on Tuesday also made clear that public hospitals would be banned from having agreements with abortion clinics to transfer patients.

State health department regulations require all ambulatory surgical facilities in Ohio, including abortion providers, to have such transfer agreements with hospitals that would take patients in case they experience medical complications.

Abortion rights advocates have said the move would force many facilities to close, limiting access to abortions. Supporters argue it tightens Ohio's prohibition on using public money to support abortions.

Other reworked provisions of the budget ranged from casino rules to education funding.

In education, some money that had been set aside to help train young readers in kindergarten through 3rd grade would be re-directed to poor students. An advisory committee also would be created to review awards under the governor's new Straight A fund, which will deliver grants to school districts for innovation and efficiency measures. Democrats failed in their efforts to add more money to early childhood education.

State lawmakers dropped a proposal that would have required casinos to keep patrons photos for five years.

The casino provision was aimed at making it easier for law enforcement to track and clamp down on money laundering. Instead, the Joint Committee on Gaming and Wagering will study the issue and prepare a report of its findings and recommendations by the end of the year.

The six-member committee has been working to hash out the budget differences between the House and Senate, which passed separate tax proposals that had to be reconciled along with other provisions.

The panel made modest changes to a tax package agreed to by Republican legislative leaders last week, though the basic framework remained the same.

The state's budget director said the sweeping proposal "has broad benefits for all Ohioans."

Budget Director Tim Keen said the tax plan amounts to a $2.7 billion net tax reduction over three years, moving the state toward a consumption-based tax system.

The package reduces the statewide income tax rate gradually over three years, beginning with an 8.5 percent tax cut on income earned in 2013 and moving to a 10 percent tax reduction by 2015.

The income tax cut would be paid for in part by an increase in the state sales tax, which would rise from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. The tax also would be applied to digital goods, such as e-books and music downloads.

Among other changes, the tax proposal calls for a tax break targeted at small businesses. Individuals could write off 50 percent of their first $250,000 in business income annually.

State Sen. Scott Oelslager, a Canton Republican, said the package will help send the message: "Come do business in Ohio."

Democrats on the panel argued there should have been more time to review the overhaul of the tax code.

State Sen. Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat, said although lawmakers have seen some of the ideas before, it remained unclear where all the combined changes would leave the state.

"We don't know how this works as a package," Sawyer told fellow committee members.

While Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal called for an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law, the GOP-controlled Legislature has largely kept the idea separate from the budget bill.

Foley's attempt to add the extension of Medicaid back into the bill was denied.

State lawmakers continue to examine ways to change the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, which already provides health care for one of every five residents in the state.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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Ohio (change)

 
The government of Ohio is composed of the executive branch, led by the Governor; the legislative branch, which comprises the Ohio General Assembly; and the judicial branch, which is led by the Supreme Court.
 
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Governor: John Kasich
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