Columbus -- Lawmakers would have to review and renew state departments or they would cease to operate, under legislation passed Sept. 28 on a split vote in the Ohio Senate that's drawing concern from union and other groups.
SB 329 passed on a vote of 22-8 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration.
A similar process already exists for state boards and commissions. And backers of the new bill said other offices should also be subject to regular review.
"This bill intends to reassert legislative authority," said Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina), a primary co-sponsor of the legislation. "You see, agencies are created by the legislature This bill doesn't kill agencies What it does is sets up a process that is clear and defined wherein the legislature will exercise its oversight authority over state agencies."
Democrats opposed the bill, however, voicing concern about the possibility that entire state agencies could be eliminated if lawmakers in the future chose not to act.
"The entire administration of the state of Ohio could be eliminated through inaction alone," said Sen. Edna Brown (D-Toledo). "This legislation impacts the core functions of government. It has the potential to change the normal operating procedure of the state of Ohio."
SB 329 would establish a process for lawmakers to periodically review cabinet departments, with 25 different offices scheduled for consideration about every four years -- some during even-year general assemblies, some during odd-year ones.
Departments that oversee state prisons, Medicaid, agriculture, public safety, education, transportation and other areas would be covered.
Those offices could be renewed and retained via passage of legislation. The review process would include studies of departments' activities, workloads, staffing, budget needs and other issues.
Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Delaware), the other primary co-sponsor, said the law changes are aimed at ensuring state offices are effectively serving their intended purposes.
"SB 329 is about oversight, efficiency and accountability," he said, adding, "State agencies will be reviewed by a legislative committee to ensure that the agency has remained within its legislative authority, is operating efficiently and is not hindering economic growth for Ohioans. If the state agency cannot show this, and the legislature does not reauthorize the agency, it will sunset."
He added, "Under this bill, it will be the duty of the state agency to demonstrate that it is serving the public interest rather than the special interests, that the public could not be better served in market-based manner and that their programs are not redundant."
Democrats did not support the bill. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) moved unsuccessfully to re-refer the bill for further committee consideration.
"The law today without this bill is sensible," he said. "If you want to change something down here, you drop a bill, you put the bill in committee, you discuss the bill, you put it on the floor for members to vote, you make a decision."
But Faber countered criticism of the bill, saying lawmakers had a responsibility to keep regular tabs on state departments.
"Maybe, just maybe, the legislature ought to periodically, every five years or so, take a look at our state agencies and make a determination as a matter of public policy -- you know, that funny little thing you were elected to do -- as to whether or not state agencies are [meeting] the public policy needs of your constituents," he said. "For those who say, well that might be onerous, we might actually have to work and have hearings and find out what these bureaucrats in the state agency are doing, really? That's what you're here for."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.