EDITORIAL: Time is short to legislate

The Columbus Dispatch (November 14, 2014)

Lawmakers should give priority to two bills, but let a third die

Ohio lawmakers, having returned to the Statehouse after the election, are rushing to wrap up a long list of unfinished business before the session ends and any bill not passed dies.

Amid the flurry of legislation, three particular issues demand resolution to protect Ohioans and make it easier to do business in the state.

Two — a tax-simplification bill and a bill to stop predatory towing — deserve speedy passage. The third legislative effort, which effectively bans traffic cameras, endangers the public and should be rejected.

Here is a look at those bills, which are considered likely to rise to a vote in the lame-duck session:

• House Bill 5 would bring uniformity to Ohio’s byzantine system of municipal-income taxes, making the state more attractive to businesses. Ohio is the only state that allows each municipality to impose the income tax on its own terms and with its own forms. The result is a complex and costly thicket of tax filings for businesses that operate in multiple locations.

The state has more than 600 income-taxing jurisdictions. They employ more than 300 forms. What business wants to fill out a mishmash of employee withholding forms? Or spend more money preparing tax returns than it owes in taxes?

House Bill 5, which passed that chamber a year ago, would standardize the system. But opposition remains on several issues, which the cities fear would cost them revenue. For instance, the bill requires cities to allow businesses to spread operating losses over five years. Currently, some 200 municipalities, including Columbus, do not permit this. The federal tax standard is 20 years.

Ohio’s patchwork municipal tax system is crippling the state’s economic competitiveness. If lawmakers are serious about helping Ohioans get jobs, the Senate needs to pass this bill.

• As for the bill that combats predatory towing, what opposition could legislators honestly have? Many tow-truck companies operate fairly and above board, performing an important job by clearing streets and private property of improperly parked or broken-down vehicles. Others do not.

House Bill 382, sponsored by Reps. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, and Heather Bishoff, D-Blacklick, would rein in questionable practices and fees, making it easier for people to get their cars back and avoid tacked-on fees.

The bill has passed the House and may be combined with a Senate bill that deals with unclaimed cars held by towing companies.

• The third effort, to kill traffic-safety cameras, is misguided and detrimental to Ohioans who could be spared injury or death by this proven technology.

The House already has passed a camera ban, House Bill 69. The Senate’s version, Senate Bill 342, would impose restrictions that have the same effect as a ban, requiring communities to station a police officer at every location of a red-light or speed camera to also witness the law breaking and write a ticket. This is cost-prohibitive; placing officers at each camera intersection would cost Columbus alone $15.4 million a year.

The human cost of the camera bans would be even greater. They’ve caught drivers running red lights and nearly mowing down children in sidewalks. These bills benefit one group: lawbreakers. Intelligent regulations, such as what Columbus has in place, are needed, not a ban.

Time is precious in the lame-duck session. Legislative leaders should prioritize votes that will benefit Ohioans the most.