Applause as Ohio House OKs sending redistricting deal to voters; legal fireworks bill dies



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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Applause from the gallery was permitted Wednesday as the Ohio House gave final clearance to a bipartisan agreement to overhaul the way the state draws its legislative districts and sent it to voters, culminating years of difficult negotiations.

"I'm not going to mention that I'm not supposed to allow that, because it was so damned refreshing," said House Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican. It was Batchelder's last day after more than 40 years in public service.

The redistricting resolution amends the Ohio Constitution with a new legislative map-making process.

To make sure it would survive court scrutiny, representatives voted a second time in support of the redistricting proposal so that the constitutional amendment could be spread upon the pages of the House Journal.

"This isn't everyday stuff," Batchelder told his colleagues.

Catherine Turcer, a long-time redistricting reform advocate working for Common Cause Ohio, said she is hopeful the ballot campaign next year will draw strong bipartisan support.

"We only have one more hurdle, and that's the voters," she said.

Of 150 constitutional amendments Ohio's Legislature has referred to the ballot over the past century, only 102 have passed, she said.

The redistricting measure actually followed its expected course for the day, though others took different routes.

House approval of a resolution opposing a federal law that requires driving penalties for marijuana possession turned out to be unnecessary, and a bill that would have legalized consumer grade fireworks in the state fizzled due to a technical error.

The fireworks bill was thought to have cleared a committee until it was determined that two of the required votes came only after House Health Chairman Lynn Wachtmann had declared the panel adjourned. That meant the votes didn't ocunt and the legislation's going nowhere this year. Wednesday is the last day for the House.

Former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery had joined other opponents in testifying against legalized fireworks, saying it would increase injuries.

Other measures the House approved and sent to Gov. John Kasich before wrapping up the two-year legislative session:

— Require minors to get their parents' permission to use tanning beds;

— Shield the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs to Ohio, a provision that supporters say is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs by protecting drugmakers from harassment. Kasich's signature is expected on the death penalty bill.

The Legislature left Kasich in a position to launch a campaign for Ohio to opt out of a federal law that imposes driving penalties for pot possession, despite their taking no votes on the issue Wednesday. Eleventh-hour legal advice from the Ohio Judicial Conference said separate identical resolutions from the House and Senate were as good as a single resolution approved by both chambers.

Opposition by both the governor and the Legislature is needed to seek an exemption from the law, which requires a six-month suspension or revocation of a driver's license after a drug offense conviction, even when it doesn't involved driving. Once the U.S. Secretary of Transportation grants the reprieve, separate legislation is expected to be introduced to revise Ohio's possession law.

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