COLUMBUS -- Amid all of the debate over Medicaid expansion and tax policy and local government and school funding and all the other decisions that are part of the thousands of pages of biennial budget legislation, there was one issue that was somewhat surprisingly missing -- unemployment compensation reform.
It was surprising, given that Republican leaders of the Ohio House said late last year that they hoped to implement a fix by April.
But I add "somewhat," since lawmakers don't have a very good record of hitting self-imposed deadlines for deals on hot-button issues (think fracking and taxing a couple of years ago).
That's not to say there hasn't been a lot of work done behind the scenes on unemployment compensation, with continued conversations among the lawmakers and business and labor groups that are trying to find common ground.
Front and center is Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), a longtime lawmaker, the No. 2 leader in the House and the guy who is actively involved in all sorts of issues.
"We've had very productive meetings," Schuring said on the unemployment compensation issue. "We've had a lot of concepts that have been floated We've had the actuary who has assigned a dollar amount [on the impact of potential changes]. I'm of the belief we can work something out, although I'm not sure everyone else agrees with me."
The issue at hand involves the future solvency of the state's jobless assistance program, after Ohio had to borrow billions of dollars from the federal government to meet its unemployment compensation obligations during the recession.
Lawmakers made provisions last year to pay off the remainder of that debt, and they've debated legislation to prevent comparable borrowing for the program in the future.
Last session, lawmakers considered a number of changes, including freezes on unemployment benefits, reductions in the number of weeks out-of-work Ohioans could receive compensation and increases in what employers pay into the system.
The different sides of the debate remained at odds over the right course of action. Late last year, lawmakers OK'd a temporary fix, freezing unemployment benefits for two years starting in 2018, slightly increasing taxes paid by employers into the system and eliminating interest penalties paid by employers when the state has to borrow from the federal government to cover benefits.
Republican leaders of the Ohio House said at that time said they would continue to work with business and union groups, with hopes of passing a larger reform package by the beginning of April.
Schuring has been spearheading the discussions, and the meetings have stretched past the original April timeframe and now beyond the biennial budget legislation.
Meaning we likely won't see legislative action on a new plan before fall at the earliest, after lawmakers return from their summer recess.
Schuring called the ongoing discussions "very insightful."
"Both sides have bared their souls on what the dynamics are with what they're dealing with as they deal with their members ," he said. "Based on that, I think there's some things we can do to find common ground."
So will lawmakers actually be ready to act on the issue in coming months?
"I'm am optimist," Schuring said. "I think where there's a will, there's a way. I know that some would disagree with me, but I'm not giving up, I can tell you that."
He added, "I'm never on break. [We will] continue to plow through this throughout the summer."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.