Columbus -- Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said he expects action on an unemployment compensation reform package before the end of the year, with a focus on keeping the state system solvent in the future.
"Unemployment reform is going to be our No. 1 priority," Rosenberger told reporters following the Nov. 16 session. "I think we're going to have a very good strong bill that we're going to be able to have some consensus on that we've worked with the administration and the Senate with."
Other potential lame duck topics: energy mandates, abortion-related legislation, a mid-biennium budget bill focused on the state's opioid epidemic and elected officials' compensation.
On unemployment, legislation debated last year, HB 394, was working its way through the system before stalling.
Among other provisions, the bill called for the freezing of unemployment benefit amounts and a reduction in the maximum number of weeks eligible residents could receive compensation, based on unemployment rates.
The bill also would require workers to have earned wages in at least three of four calendar quarters in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Backers have said such changes are needed to ensure the future solvency of the jobless assistance program, after the state had to borrow $1.6 billion from the federal government to meet its unemployment compensation obligations during the recession. Lawmakers made provisions earlier this year to pay off the remainder of that debt.
But HB 394 was not popular with union groups and advocates for the needy, who said the proposed law changes would hurt Ohioans trying to get back on their feet after losing their jobs through no fault of their own.
Rosenberger and Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), who headed a series of hearings on unemployment compensation reform, didn't provide details of potential changes to the legislation, but they said they expected the package to move shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Behind the scenes, the Ohio House, Senate and the governor's office have discussed the legislation, with hopes of coming to an agreement before the end of the year.
"I think our hope is that we all three have an agreed-upon bill that we can move forward and the bill that we have that we agree upon doesn't get changed," Rosenberger said. "That's what we're working towards."
He added, "Even the unions, we've asked where can we meet halfway and what can we do to help do things to make it a little better. But this is an important issue and it's one of those, what I think [is], a last Achilles heels for our state that we need to make sure is solvent in the future That's our No. 1 priority of this bill, is solvency, and making sure that we have a solvent system."
Schuring said the framework for the legislation is "not there yet" but that he expected an unveiling before the end of the month.
"I would submit to you, when we unveil this in the latter part of November, you'll see some significant changes that are a reflection of the testimony we got in committee ," he said. "We're trying to determine what the cost of the minimum safe level is, put a dollar amount on that and then how much does it cost how many dollars do we get from contribution increases, how much do we get from benefit reductions. That's the process we're in right now. I think it's a fair process and a fair notion to look at it that way."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.