Ohio House makes renewable energy mandates optional – WHIO


December 9, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Alternative Energy


Updated: Thursday, December 08, 2016 @ 11:37 PM
Published: Thursday, December 08, 2016 @ 11:37 PM
By: Laura A. Bischoff – Columbus bureau

In what is expected to be the last day of the two-year legislative session, state lawmakers passed bills to require insurance companies to cover autism, protect bicyclists peddling in traffic and limit the circumstances when police can seize private property.

Here is a guide to some of the measures flying through the House and Senate that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

House Bill 554 waters down benchmarks for renewable energy use in Ohio by making the standards voluntary instead of mandatory over the next three years. The House approved the bill earlier this week and the Senate voted 18-13 in favor of it Thursday.

It marks the latest turn in a battle over government mandates to push utilities to increase the use of renewable energy sources by 2027 in Ohio. Environmental groups say mandatory standards encourage long-term investments in renewable energy.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who opposes renewable energy mandates, said the state is moving toward clean power without government intervention and the added costs that come with mandates.

Seitz led the charge to eliminate the mandates and won a two-year, temporary freeze on them. As the freeze was set to lift next year, Gov. John Kasich indicated he would veto measures that wipe out the renewable energy standards.

Seitz said making the benchmarks voluntary goals for two years is a compromise.

CIVIL FORFEITURES

The Ohio Senate voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 347, which would make it more difficult for law enforcement to keep cash and other property owned by innocent people that is seized in drug busts. Current law allows police to take anything that during an investigation has a connection to illegal activity — even if the owner is never charged with a crime. The bill, which is backed by liberal and conservative groups, would limit when civil asset forfeiture can be used without obtaining a criminal conviction.

BIKES AND CARS

Drivers passing bicyclists on roadways would need to leave at least three feet between the vehicle and bike, according to House Bill 154, which passed the Senate on a 30-1 vote Thursday. Current law just says drivers passing cyclists must leave a safe distance but it doesn’t define that. If it is signed into law, Ohio will join more than two dozen states that mandate a three-foot passing distance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

SCHOOL TRUANCY

State Rep. Jeff Rezabek’s bill revamping school truancy laws passed the Senate on a 30-0 vote. Districts will count truancy based on hours missed, instead of days, and they won’t be allowed to suspend or expel a student based solely on unexcused absences. Districts would have to set up an intervention team for habitually truant students.

ASSISTED SUICIDE

The Ohio Senate voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 470, which makes assisting suicide a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Under current law, courts must issue injunctions against those seeking to assist suicide.

LIFE SUPPORT

Relatives won’t be allowed to withdraw life support if they’re undergoing a divorce, separation or dissolution or subject to a protection order regarding the ill person. The Senate voted in favor of House Bill 451.

AUTISM & FAIR HOUSING

Senators voted 26-5 for House Bill 463 that lumped together changes in fair housing and civil rights laws, a mandate that private insurers cover costs related to autism and revisions to foreclosure of vacant and abandoned properties.

Some Democrats said while they favored the autism coverage, they couldn’t back the bill because it waters down protections against housing discrimination.

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