This is Part 2 of a summary of business legislation introduced in 2019 but still awaiting action in 2020. Part I is posted here.
A dozen Ohio Chamber-backed bills have already passed one chamber and await final action in the other. Among these are bills to: protect consumers and businesses by prohibiting local governments from imposing a tax, fee or ban on disposable plastic bags and other containers; reduce from eight years to six the timeframe employers face liability for breach of a written contract; and increase penalties for those who physically damage or tamper with critical infrastructure projects, such as telecommunications networks, railroads, pipelines, electric generating facilities, and water sewer systems. Work on several of these 12 bills could be completed early in 2020.
Other key bills are still in their original chamber but also making progress. Most significant is HB 352, a longstanding Ohio Chamber policy objective that makes overdo and much-needed reforms to Ohio’s employment discrimination laws. HB 352 reforms our confusing and burdensome employment discrimination statutes so they better align with federal law and the laws of other states. Four attorneys that practice in this area and who are members of the Ohio Chamber’s Employment Law Committee testified in support of the bill in mid-November. Not a single organization or individual testified against it. This should mean HB 352 is ready for the House Civil Justice Committee to favorably report at its next hearing, likely in mid-January. Following that, it will await a vote by the full House.
More controversial is the issue of surprise medical bills. Many employers are concerned about the burden that surprise medical bills — those costly, unexpected bills patients get after they receive care from an out-of-network provider they reasonably assumed was in their network — create for their employees, and both the Senate and the House have bills to protect patients by ending surprise billing. However, their approaches are vastly different, and no clear path forward has yet emerged that could garner support in both chambers. The Ohio Chamber is supportive of taking patients out of the equation, but only if this can be done without creating a process that would lead to increased health insurance premiums for employers.
From a business perspective, the 2019 legislative year ended with much positive momentum, particularly when contrasted with the first half of the year. The challenge now will be carrying that positive momentum into 2020 and translating it into even more action – especially given that 2020 is an election year.
An election year often means a slowing of the legislative process, in part because incumbents seeking re-election want to be back home in their districts interacting with their constituents more than they want to be in Columbus working on public policy. With a St. Patrick’s Day primary and a scheduled mid-April Spring Break – not to mention the array of other issues with which the legislature is dealing, such as the capital budget, gun legislation, sports gaming, school vouchers, and drug sentencing reform – it is probably unreasonable to expect all of the Ohio Chamber-backed bills to get done before the legislature wraps up its pre-General Election work sometime in mid-June.
Nonetheless, when the New Year begins, you can count on the Ohio Chamber to continue to aggressively push lawmakers to make the issues discussed above a top priority.