COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House OK'd legislation setting nearly $8 billion in spending over the next two fiscal years by the Ohio Department of Transportation and several other state agencies.
The transportation budget, HB 26, passed on a vote of 83-13 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration. Senators began hearings on the legislation earlier this week, with an eye toward final passage by early next month.
The spending plan is separate from the larger biennial state operating budget, which isn't expected to be signed into law until late June.
Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon), primary sponsor of the legislation, said the package was "a good transportation budget bill."
"There's a lot of stuff in this bill that's trying to help local governments, because they're crying out for help, especially with the roads and bridges," he said. "There's some other stuff in this bill that's trying to bring Ohio to the forefront with smart vehicle corridors and allowing for autonomous vehicle technology to be developed in this state."
Provisions spotlighted during the March 1 floor session included:
A pilot program that would reduce to $15 from $30 commercial vehicle registrations in Stark and several other counties.
Another pilot program that would institute variable speed limits during the day and allow vehicles to drive on the shoulder of specified highways, as part of an effort to reduce congestion.
An expansion of the state's smart highway system in the Columbus area and on Interstate 90 between Cleveland and the Pennsylvania line, as part of efforts to develop autonomous vehicles, along with funding for a central Ohio research facility that's testing self-driving vehicles.
A move to make failure to display a front license plate a secondary offense, so long as a vehicle involved is legally parked.
An increase in service fees charged by deputy registrar offices to $5.25 from $3.50 "for services including vehicle registration and renewal registration, vehicle inspections for titling purposes, driver's license and commercial driver's license issuance and renewal, and identification card issuance and renewal."
A provision allowing county commissioners "to levy and retain" an additional $5 annual license tax per motor vehicle, with the proceeds used for road and bridge maintenance, construction and repair and other purposes. Any such levies would be subject to voter referendum, however.
Language allowing residents to leave vehicles running unattended if parked at their homes or elsewhere if they are locked.
Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to add amendments to the legislation during Wednesday's session.
Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) offered a provision from the floor to make driving without a front license plate a secondary offense, meaning officers could not pull someone over simply for not having a front plate.
She cited the case of Sam DuBose, an unarmed man who was shot dead by a University of Cincinnati officer two years ago following a traffic stop for not having a front license plate.
"We have a selective law [that is] selectively enforced at selective times," she said, noting that Indiana and Kentucky both require only back license plates. " Sam DuBose didn't do anything wrong, and he's dead today with a bullet in the head."
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) offered an amendment to require bureaus of motor vehicles to provide voter registrations for all customers, including those who complete registrations online.
"Thankfully, we now have online voter registration in Ohio, but over at the BMV, we still require people to come to an office in person and use paper to register to vote," she said. "The motor-voter law is meant to make voter registration easier, to be seamless with the business Ohio citizens are doing with the state and to keep our voter rolls accurate and secure as cheaply and efficiently as possible. This common sense amendment will do just that."
Another unsuccessful amendment sought to increase funding for public transportation.
In the end, HB 26 received bipartisan support, though members did voice their concerns.
"The bill does have some innovative ideas on it, but I still think we have a lot of needs in Ohio that's unmet in this bill -- needs both in highway maintenance and construction, needs in public transit including rail," said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), who supported the bill. "I think we need to come together as a legislature and understand that we need to deal with these issues."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.